Itching During Pregnancy: Causes, Treatments and Home Remedies

Itching During Pregnancy: Causes, Treatments and Home Remedies

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Sabiha Anjum (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
View more Gynecologist/Obstetrician Our Panel of Experts

Your body undergoes a lot of transformation, both hormonal and emotional when you are pregnant. One common change nearly a quarter of all pregnant women undergo is bodily itching. Your stretching skin, increased blood supply to your skin and changes in the hormonal levels increase the urge to scratch. The itching is more prominent over your womb and your breasts.

Is this common? Yes.

Do I need to worry? No.

Mild itching is common and even expected. However, if you are experiencing severe itching, then there may be an underlying infection or a dysfunctional condition. In such a case, it is advisable to contact your doctor immediately. The following article outlines some skin conditions which may cause severe itching. If you are experiencing a severe urge to scratch, then you may have contracted any one of the below conditions.

Causes of itching in pregnancy:

1. Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy (PUPPP)

PUPPP rash is an itchy rash which appears on your stomach during the later months of your pregnancy. Doctors believe the stretching skin to be a trigger for the rash but the actual cause is unknown.

Is there a risk to my child? reports that PUPPP occurs in 1 out of about 150 pregnancies. While PUPPP may be uncomfortable for the mother due to severe itch and rash condition, there is no risk to the child whatsoever.

PUPPP rashes occur during the third trimester and are more likely to occur in a first pregnancy. PUPPP rashes are extremely itchy and cause a lot of discomforts. They may spread to your thighs and even breasts.

So, what’s the cure for PUPPP rash?

PUPPP rashes usually disappear one-two weeks after you deliver your baby. For relief during the pregnancy, you can apply moisturizers, topical steroids, antihistamines and take itch relieving baths with baking soda or oatmeal. There are a number of other home remedies which you can try to soothe the ailing skin and get comfort from the itch.

Causes of itching in pregnancy:

2. Prurigo of Pregnancy

This one is a non-specific benign itchy rash occurring during pregnancy. It is also referred to as early-onset prurigo of pregnancy, popular dermatitis of pregnancy and prurigo gestationis. The rash occurs 1 in 300 pregnancies and usually appears during the second or third trimester. At present, the catalyst for the rash is unknown. The prurigo of pregnancy is clinically diagnosed via medical tests of dermatitis.

So, how is prurigo of pregnancy cured?

While there is no specific treatment for the condition, you can consult your doctor and implement individual respite for the symptoms with medication such as benzoyl peroxide, oral antihistamines and topical steroid ointments and creams. You can also try using homemade baking soda paste, basil leave paste or lemon water to soothe an itchy area.

The condition of prurigo of pregnancy usually resolves after your delivery, although the rashes may take several weeks and months to go back to normal. The recurrence of the rashes varies with each pregnancy, but the relief is, your baby is not at risk.

3. Impetigo Gestationis

A rare autoimmune skin disease associated with pregnancy, the impetigo gestationis is marked by an itchy rash that eventually converts into blisters. The condition occurs during the second and the third trimesters of your pregnancy. The condition was earlier known as herpes gestationis. However, it has no association with the herpes virus.

In autoimmune diseases, the immune system of an individual reacts against their own tissue. The condition is an autoimmune blistering ailment, and immunoglobulin type G autoantibodies, also known as the PG factor, are responsible for causing Pemphigoid Gestationis.

The antibodies target BPAG2 protein in the epidermis layer of the skin and cause inflammation and separation of the layer. The fluid fills up space which was created due to separation, thereby causing the formation of a blister on the outer surface of the skin.

What are the symptoms of Pemphigoid Gestationis?

The initial symptoms for pemphigoid gestationis include itchy, red bumps around the belly button. Slowly and eventually, the rashes spread to other regions of the body including thighs, breasts and lower abdomen. Tense, large fluid-filled blisters form after 2 to 4 weeks of the appearance of rashes.

Well, is there a cure?

Pemphigoid gestationis requires a skin biopsy, which indicates the blistering of the epidermis layer of the skin. The condition usually resolves several weeks after childbirth. In some cases, however, the syndrome remains active for months, maybe years and the onset of the menstrual cycle might flare the condition further.

The treatment, as in the conditions above, is mainly for individual symptoms, blisters and infections. Topical corticosteroids, oral corticosteroids and oral antihistamines are usually prescribed by your OB-GYN to relieve you of discomfort. You can also try natural home remedies such as aloe vera gel and oatmeal baths to get comfort from itching and urge to scratch.

4. Impetigo Herpetiform

Impetigo Herpetiform is a rare condition. This is a type of psoriasis which occurs when a woman is pregnant. The psoriasis usually develops during the third trimester but can start earlier too in some cases. Pregnant women suffering from this condition have small, pus-filled rashes that redden large areas on the body. The rashes gradually turn into larger, white, pus-filled blisters.

What areas are affected by Impetigo Herpetiform and what are the common symptoms?

The affected areas include thighs, groin, navel, breasts and armpits. Common symptoms of impetigo herpetiform are fever, nausea, chills and diarrhoea.

How is impetigo herpetiform treated?

Impetigo herpetiform is a slightly tricky condition. The mother and the unborn baby are monitored closely in this case as there might be complications in childbirth. To give the mother comfort from itching, systemic corticosteroids are used. The rashes disappear on their own after delivery, but there are chances that they may occur again the next time you are pregnant. To provide temporary relief from itching, women usually try using cold compresses and cold showers or oatmeal baths. These are natural remedies which soothe the ailing skin and provide relief from itching and scratching.

5. Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP)

ICP is a serious condition. ICP or Obstetric Cholestasis (OC) is a liver disorder which occurs during pregnancy. This is not harmful to the mother but puts the unborn baby at risk of serious complications. There are chances of a baby being born prematurely or stillborn.

In Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy, the bile from liver salts starts accumulating inside your body, instead of flowing out to digest food. OC is believed to be genetic but there are chances of it occurring for the first time as well. Pakistani and Indian women are more at risk from OC. Some studies show that women with OC are more likely to deliver stillborn or premature babies. This is why women who are diagnosed with OC are advised to have a caesarean section after 37 weeks.

What are the symptoms of ICP?

The prevalent symptoms of ICP include itching without rashes on the feet. The symptoms occur around the 28th week of pregnancy. Other symptoms include jaundice, dark urine and pale bowel movements.

Is there a cure?

Sadly, no. There is no cure for OC but the condition resolves after childbirth. The diagnosis is done after studying your medical and family history carefully, along with performing liver function tests or LFTs.

To combat distinct symptoms, ointments and creams such as calamine lotion can be used. Some doctors also prescribe medication which reduces bile salts to some extent. If you suspect ICP, consult your doctor immediately.

While the above are some complex cases, do not stress yourself into thinking that you may have developed anyone of them. Itching can also be caused due to below common causes, which are curable and not that scary:

  • Eczema can cause itching on your body. You can have itchy scratches in the folds of your skin such as elbows and knees. You can use doctor prescribed ointments to soothe eczema. Always consult with your doctor before using any medication to avoid interference with your pregnancy medication.
  • Scabies, caused by mites, also causes itchiness during pregnancy. This is curable with doctor’s medications.
  • If your vagina feels itchy, you may have developed a fungal infection known as thrush. Your OB-GYN will direct you to the right prescriptions for thrush.

You can also go for home remedies to cure your body of itching. These are 100% natural, without any side-effects and easy to obtain and afford. You can try these to rid prickling during pregnancy.

Home Remedies to Treat Itching During Pregnancy:

1. Taking Oatmeal Baths

Taking oatmeal baths is a trusted practice to get rid of itching. Just add a bowl of oatmeal to warm water and use it to soothe any irritating, itchy parts.

Taking Oatmeal Baths

2. Using a Cold Compress

You can also use a cold ice-pack to make the itching go away. The cold compress is particularly helpful if you have inflamed body parts. The cold sensation will give you instant relief. This is particularly helpful in summer.

3. Using Herbs to Make the Itching Go Away

Herbs like dandelion roots and milk thistle work wonders to soothe itches. They are natural treatments for liver problems like cholesterol. However, it’s better to ask your doctor before consuming these.

4. Aloe Vera Gel

Aloe Vera gel is a versatile natural product. It is used worldwide in treating various skin conditions. Simply apply the gel to affected areas and areas prone to itching. The gel will naturally decrease inflammations, soreness and the urge to scratch. The gel also provides a layer which protects the skin against any damage that is caused when you scratch the skin.

5. Application of Cold, Wet Towel on Inflamed Areas

Wet, cold towels help in soothing tingling skin during pregnancy. Soak a small towel in a bowl of cold water and roll it up. Place the damp towel on the affected area and relax. You will feel much better and the scratching will stop, at least for a while.

6. Calamine Lotion

Calamine lotion is an excellent remedy for women suffering from PUPPP syndrome. Apply the lotion to affected areas and you will have instant relief from irritation and inflammation. Unscented body power also works the same way to combat itching.

7. Calendula Creams

Calendula lotions and creams provide a much-needed respite from itching during pregnancy and are quite popular amongst pregnant women. You can simply rub the lotion on the areas which are inflamed.

8. A Paste of Baking Soda

Baking soda is another effective home remedy for preventing itching during pregnancy. Make a paste of baking soda with water in equal parts and apply it all over the affected area and the areas more prone to itching to alleviate discomfort.

9. Oils for Massage

For pregnant ladies who have dry skin, itching is a nightmare. You can use essentials oils such as lavender as well as olive and almond oils to massage your belly, thighs, breasts and other areas which cause irritation. However, make sure you consult your doctor before you start using essential oils.

Oils for Massage

10.Basil Tea for Relief From Itching

Basil, a popular herb in the Indian kitchens, is an excellent itch repellent. The herb has a compound called eugenol which is effective in controlling itching. To use the magic powers of basil, steep a few leaves in boiling water. Once the mixture has cooled, soak a cloth in it and place it on the affected area. You can also ingest a few leaves with your food.

11. Mint Leaves for Itchy Skin

This cool herb provides relief from itching during pregnancy. Just like basil leaves, steep a few in boiling water and use the liquid on areas which itch. Do not apply directly as a paste as there may be burning of the skin. You can also use thyme leaves to get respite from itching.

12. Lemon Juice

Lemon is the king of natural home remedies! No wonder, it works on pregnancy itches as well. Dilute lemon juice with water and apply it on the affected areas with a cotton swab. You will immediately relax as the itching ceases.

13. Juniper Berry Lotion

Juniper berries have anti-inflammatory properties. Although hard to find, if you combine these with cloves which contain eugenol, you have a potent cure for itch. For a DIY paste, mix some beeswax in ground cloves and berries. Rub the paste on the places which itch and see the paste work wonders.

14. Besan Powder

Mix some besan and water into a bowl and apply it on your itchy skin directly. Not only will your skin be itch-free, but it will also be fresh and baby soft.

15. Cool showers

You may feel itching due to hot temperatures too. Nothing soothes sensitive skin than a cool shower. Not only will you feel wonderful, but your skin will also be rid of the itch although temporarily. We hope these home remedies help to control your urge to scratch yourself. While itching is a common occurrence during pregnancy, make sure you explain all symptoms to your doctor during regular checkups so that anything out of the ordinary can be investigated.

Still have doubts? Explore some of the common questions would-be mothers wonder about:

1. I feel like itching all the time. Will it harm my baby?

In the majority of cases, no. Itching is common and it does not harm you or your baby. However, if the symptoms persist, do get checked up for OC.

2. Does itching in certain regions predict the gender of my baby?

This is an old wives’ tale. Itching is a physical symptom of blood reaching your stretching skin and in no way, can it predict the gender of your baby. Some cultures do believe that itching in a certain region may give you a boy or a girl but this is just superstition and not based on any scientific study.

Does itching in certain regions predict the gender of my baby?

3. Should I really see my doctor if it itches severely?

While you should definitely tell your doctor that you experience itching, be on the lookout for particular symptoms for any underlying skin conditions. In most cases, it is usually nothing or a mild reaction to prescribed medication. However, if the itching becomes severe, there are red blisters forming around the inflamed area and in some cases, if they are filled with pus, consult your OB-GYN immediately.

4. What are some other changes in the skin which are common during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, you may develop acne or spots and stretch marks. You may also see pigmentation or changes in your skin colour as well as broken veins. All of this is part of the hormonal changes your body is undergoing to nurture the new life in you.

Also Read: Stretch Marks During Pregnancy

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