Is there anything worse than being itchy? As a pregnant woman, it can be frustrating trying to find credible information on itching during pregnancy and how to treat it, without potentially causing harm to the baby. I was very fortunate that I had a healthy, happy pregnancy. My only complaint was I had itchy skin all over and it drove me nuts! Here are some things I’ve learned from experience that hopefully will help some women who have suffered (and I’m not being overdramatic here, if you are itchy you know what I mean!) from itchy hives during their pregnancy and post-partum period.
Prior to becoming pregnant I had never experienced chronic itchiness in my life. In fact, I went to the dermatologist for the first time before I even found out I was pregnant; I actually took a pregnancy test later that same day and found out that I was pregnant with my first baby. I had an itchy rash on my forearms, the backs of my hands, underarms, breasts, neck and collarbone area. It was so itchy I just had to scratch, I could not stop myself. What I thought was an itchy rash the dermatologist diagnosed as hives. The dermatologist prescribed a topical steroid, Triamcinolone Acetonide Cream USP, 0.15%. This steroid is a pregnancy Category C drug, which means that scientists have not done sufficient studies to determine if any harm could be done to the developing fetus or if it can be passed in breast milk. I did not feel comfortable using the prescription, due to the uncertain risk, although it was about the only thing I found at the time that would really help. I preferred to try various lotions and an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, even though they were less effective.
Since the itching started at the beginning of my pregnancy and continued throughout the gestation, I believe the symptoms were due to hormonal changes in my body. I was not continuously experiencing hives, but did have frequent outbreaks, every few days or so, with little relief between. I also believe the itching was triggered by stress, because I would experience outbreaks during times I felt especially anxious or under pressure at work. Thankfully, the symptoms improved during my third trimester.
After the birth of my daughter, I had a resurgence of itching which started a few days post-partum. The post-partum itchiness was worse than during my pregnancy! The hives were quite severe on my calves, thighs, and tummy. I had itchy skin all over; the rash was little raised, red bumps. They were extremely itchy! After a few days with no relief I was ready to jump out the window; of course, I was also sleep deprived during this newborn period, so that didn’t help my psychological state much, either. This backs up my theory that the hives were both hormonally triggered and stress related.
I went to another dermatologist for my post-partum itching and he asked me if anything had changed in my routine, like using different soap or laundry detergent. I told him, “No, but I just had a baby.” That was the big change in my life, but he didn’t make the connection between the birth and the hives. He was definitely not a specialist regarding women’s issues, and although he didn’t think the hives were related to the birth he said he’d heard of some women who had hives associated with menstrual cycles. He wanted to get me on the same prescription previously prescribed to me. I still wasn’t very comfortable using it since I was nursing the baby and there haven’t been any studies on the effects on breast feeding.
My goal was to find a safe, non-toxic product to help soothe and heal my itchy skin. My midwife suggested that I try an oatmeal bath. The oatmeal baths did not work because the heat aggravated the hives and made the inflammation worse. I recommend taking cold showers, which helped soothe my skin. I decided to try some homeopathic remedies. I had really great success treating the hives with calendula gel. However, calendula ointment is petroleum based and was not as soothing as the gel. My best advice to soothe itching during pregnancy and post-partum hives is to apply calendula gel several times per day, as needed, and try to relax. Fortunately, my post-partum hives cleared up after about two weeks.
Here are my suggestions for treating itchy skin during and after pregnancy:
- Try not to scratch
- Try not to stress out
- Meditate and think happy thoughts
- Avoid hot baths, take cold showers instead
- Apply calendula gel as needed
- See a dermatologist if nothing else works.