Pregnancy Articles

Make It Stop: Itching During Pregnancy

What is PUPPP and How Do You Treat It?

With unmatched bravery and strength, you've endured all the uncomfortable and awkward side effects of pregnancy: swollen ankles, morning sickness, even (gulp!) hemorrhoids. But now, suddenly you're facing a pregnancy condition that's really trying your saint-like patience. You love being pregnant, but this is sheer torture!

You're itchy. It started on your tummy, which you just attributed to the ever stretching skin. But now the itchy red bumps and hives have spread to your legs -- and even your behind! This is more than just dry skin.

It's not going away, and it itches more than when you had chicken pox in second grade!

What is it and when will it go away? And even more important? How do you treat it? Here's a look at the irksome, itchy, but innocent conditions that can afflict pregnant women.

What is it:
During the last few months of pregnancy, about 1 in 200 women develops "pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy." The name sounds as awkward as the condition can make you feel! Called "PUPPP" for short, the condition usually starts as itchy red bumps and larger patches of hives on your abdomen. Often, the bumps form in your stretch marks, then within a few days spread to buttocks, thighs and arms. PUPPP generally affects women only during their first pregnancies.

Women in the last half of their pregnancy also can get a skin condition called prurigo of pregnancy (or prurigo gestationis). Small red bumps that resemble bug bites appear on the arms and legs.

Neither of these conditions will harm your baby -- even though the itchy eruptions will try your sanity. Though there is no concrete evidence, many experts believe that PUPPP is your body's reaction to a rapidly expanding belly!

Expect the itching to last about six weeks and resolve itself a week or two after delivery. The worst itching generally lasts a week or so.

How to treat it:
First, call your health care provider. He or she can examine the rash and prescribe a treatment. He or she likely will prescribe a high-strength steroid cream or ointment.

For the itching associated with pregnancy, try these tips:

Itching Do's
  • Use a mild soap and moisturize with unscented lotions.
  • Take a warm oatmeal bath. The oatmeal will help soothe skin.
  • Wear loose cotton clothing.
  • Use a baking soda paste for intense itching. It's messy, but baking soda can help relieve itching.
  • Use a cooling aloe gel that contains camphor or menthol.
  • Use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or Calamine lotion to relieve the itch.
Itching Don'ts
  • Don't scratch! The relief will be temporary, and you'll further irritate your skin in the long run.
  • Don't take a hot shower or bath. Hot water will dry out skin and exacerbate the itching. Opt for warm water.
  • Don't use heavily perfumed soaps or lotions. Scents can worsen irritation.
  • Don't take any antihistamines (or any other medications) without first talking to your health care provider.
As uncomfortable and itchy as you feel right now, remember that this incessant itching is temporary. It will go away a week or two after delivery, at the latest. Good luck -- and stop scratching!
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About The Author

Stepfanie Romine
A former newspaper reporter, Stepfanie now writes about nutrition, health and fitness, with an emphasis on whole foods and from-scratch cooking. She is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher who enjoys Spinning, international travel and vegetables of all kinds. See all of Stepfanie's articles.

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