Many women complain about red, itchy skin during pregnancy. Find out more about the causes and treatment options.

By Nicole Harris
Updated February 26, 2020
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Many women find that their palms, feet, and belly turn red and itchy while expecting. This strange symptom is normal, but extreme itchiness could indicate a liver condition called cholestasis of pregnancy. Read on to learn more about itchy skin during pregnancy. 

What Causes Itchy Skin During Pregnancy?

Blame it on those pregnancy hormones. Increased estrogen levels are likely to blame for itchiness on the hands and the soles of the feet. Your belly may also get itchy as it stretches to accommodate your baby-to-be. However, two other conditions may also lead to itchy skin during pregnancy: pruritic urticarial papules and plaques (PUPP) and cholestasis of pregnancy. 

PUPP: This is an itchy, bumpy rash usually found on the abdomen, thighs, butt, or arms, says Jessica J. Krant, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and a physician at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York. It usually begins in stretch marks and spreads to other areas. About 1 in 160 expectant women are affected by PUPP, and it most often strikes first-time moms and those carrying twins. PUPPP doesn’t harm the baby or have any dangerous side effects. 

Cholestasis of pregnancy: According to March of Dimes, about one to two in every 1,000 pregnant women in America will develop cholestasis of pregnancy, which involves severe itchiness, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, and possibly jaundice (yellowing of the skin). It usually develops in the third trimester of pregnancy. Since cholestasis could be a sign of a liver problem, call your doctor right away if you experience those symptoms. Untreated cholestasis causes a buildup of bile, which has been linked to fetal distress, preterm birth, and stillborn babies

How to Treat Itchy Skin During Pregnancy

The best treatment for itchy skin is regular moisturizing. Since your skin may be very sensitive, choose a gentle, unscented lotion. Some women swear by the special ones formulated for use during pregnancy. You can also avoid hot showers, stay hydrated with plenty of water, and consider anti-itch creams.

PUPP and cholestasis can be treated by prescription medications given under a doctor's care. Both conditions usually improve shortly after your baby is born.

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