Morning sickness and dizziness are symptoms you expect during early pregnancy.
You’re prepared to deal with those to get to the exciting pregnancy glow and baby bump.
But no one ever told you about early pregnancy itching – everywhere!
Itching in early pregnancy
Mild itching in pregnancy is quite common, with around 20% of women experiencing it.
There are several reasons why you might feel itchy in pregnancy.
Early in pregnancy, your body is changing rapidly. This can cause odd symptoms, and itching is one of them.
Mostly, this isn’t a concern for mother or baby. Some types of itching, though, need further investigation by your midwife or doctor.
Is itching a sign of early pregnancy?
Itchy skin can be a sign you’re pregnant but it’s definitely not a sign to rely on.
Early in pregnancy, rising hormones can make your skin feel itchy. Pregnancy sickness and nausea can cause dehydration, another cause of itchy skin.
Those with skin conditions, such as eczema, might find their condition worsens with pregnancy; those dealing with psoriasis could actually notice an improvement in their symptoms.
Let’s look at the different types of pregnancy itching and their causes.
#1: Itching all over during pregnancy
Mild itching all over the body is usually due to:
- Increased hormone levels
- Increased blood volume
- Stretch marks
- Prurigo of pregnancy (harmless bumpy rash)
- Heat rash
- Scented perfumes, lotions and soaps.
If you already had any of these conditions, becoming pregnant can make them worse.
#2: Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy
Severe itching can be a sign of a liver condition called intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP). It’s also known as obstetric cholestasis of pregnancy.
Obstetric cholestasis is a liver condition causing too many bile acids in the bloodstream.
The buildup of bile salts from excess bile acids is what causes the itchy skin (pruritis).
One main symptom of obstetric cholestasis is itching on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
Another sign is yellowing (jaundice) of the skin and whites of the eyes.
If you have any of these signs, contact your healthcare provider. Your midwife or doctor can rule out intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy with blood and liver function tests.
Be sure to read Cholestasis of Pregnancy – Important Facts About Cholestasis for more information.
#3: Breast itching and early pregnancy
Your breasts expand early in pregnancy due to a rise in estrogen, in preparation for milk production (lactation).
An increase in blood flow to the breasts also causes your breasts to expand. This is another amazing way your body prepares your breasts to feed your baby.
As the skin stretches you might notice itchiness and more marks – causing even more itching.
Are itchy breasts a sign of pregnancy?
Some women wonder whether itchy breasts are a sign of pregnancy. The short answer is not necessarily. Remember, it’s possible for breasts to be itchy as they enlarge. And it’s common for breasts to enlarge early in pregnancy.
Can itchy breasts be a pregnancy symptom? Yes. Are they a sign you’re pregnant? No.
Take a look at Early Signs Of Pregnancy – 9 Signs You May Be Pregnant for more information.
#4: Early pregnancy itchy nipples
Itchy nipples are fairly common and have the same causes as itchy breasts: hormone changes and increased blood flow.
Some women find their nipples are irritated by clothing and this can also trigger itchiness.
#5: Lower abdomen itching during early pregnancy
Itchiness on the tummy during pregnancy is very common.
As your baby grows, your uterus expands and the skin on your abdomen stretches. This causes your skin to itch.
Some women also experience an itchy, bumpy rash on the belly. This could be a condition called PUPPS, which is usually harmless to you and your baby.
This study shows PUPPS commonly appears in the third trimester or closer to your due date.
PUPPS usually goes away within a few days of giving birth.
Check out PUPPS Rash During Pregnancy – What You Need To Know for more information.
Is it ok to scratch your belly while pregnant?
Light scratching to relieve early pregnancy itching is ok. But don’t scratch too much or too hard or the itchiness can get worse or you could damage your skin. Skin damage can let bacteria in and lead to infections.
If you have a rash, avoid scratching, as it can cause the rash to spread.
These tips can help you get relief from an itchy belly:
- Try moisturizer (fragrance/chemical-free); keep in fridge for cooling relief
- Use coconut oil or aloe vera on stretch marks
- Wear loose clothes and cotton fabrics on the belly
- Avoid elastic on your belly/waist.
#6: Itching in private parts in early pregnancy
Vaginal and vulvar itching early in pregnancy is quite common. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s normal.
Early on you’ll notice an increase in vaginal discharge. Increased discharge can sometimes throw the pH in your vagina off balance.
When this happens, an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria can occur in your vagina. This can sometimes result in itching.
Make sure to read Early Pregnancy Discharge – What Does It Mean for more information.
What causes vaginal itching during pregnancy?
The most common reason for itching is a yeast infection caused by an overgrowth of candida in your vagina.
This yeast infection (also known as thrush) is common in pregnant women. You can treat thrush with natural remedies such as probiotics and diet changes.
Yeast infections can also be treated with over-the-counter medications or creams.
#7: Itchy legs during pregnancy
As blood volume increases, blood flow to the legs increases, too. The blood vessels begin to dilate, to make room for the increase in blood.
You know how it feels when your leg ‘falls asleep’ when blood flow is temporarily cut off. And, when the blood returns, there’s a tingly, itchy feeling.
This is similar to what happens during early pregnancy itching. When the blood volume increases in your arms and legs they become itchy and tingly.
Another cause of itchy legs in pregnant women can be dry skin.
#8: Itching from rashes in early pregnancy
As your body changes, rashes can pop up and cause moderate, severe, or mild itching.
Some women experience hives or a bumpy rash called prurigo. Heat rashes can occur in warmer months, and dry skin rashes when it’s cooler.
Luckily, there are some relief options that may help:
- Use fragrance-free moisturizer (store in fridge for more relief)
- Have a warm oatmeal bath
- Wear loose clothes
- Wash clothing with fragrance and toxin-free detergents
- Apply ice or cold compresses
- Try antihistamine or steroid cream.
#9: Body itching during pregnancy at night
You’re pregnant and already having trouble sleeping. To make matters worse, you can’t stop scratching.
Sometimes night itching could be a sign of the liver disorder obstetric cholestasis. Let your doctor or midwife know, especially if it’s on your hands and feet.
These tips can help relieve itching at night:
- Wear cotton, loose-fitting, or no clothing to bed
- Soft cotton gloves or mittens can prevent scratching while sleeping
- Wash bedding in fragrance/toxin-free detergent to prevent irritation
- Sleep in a cool, ventilated room (a fan to circulate the air is helpful)
- Use lotion to hydrate your skin.
How much itching is normal during pregnancy?
A mild to moderate itch or rash is annoying, but it’s often not serious for you or your baby. The itch shouldn’t be so severe that it’s painful, though.
It shouldn’t disrupt your daily life, be worse at night, or become so severe that it’s unbearable. If this is the case, it’s time to call your provider.
When should I call the doctor about itching during pregnancy?
Call your doctor or midwife if:
- The itch is primarily on the palms of hands and soles of feet
- A severe itch becomes worse at night, interrupting sleep
- Itch is accompanied by yellowing of the skin and eyes
- A severe itch interferes with daily life
- Severe itching and scratching lead to skin irritation.
Your doctor may want to run some blood tests to rule out intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy.