Why Do You Have Itchy Legs During Pregnancy?
As the blood supply to your skin increases, it is very common to experience mild itching during pregnancy. Your belly may also itch as the skin stretches.
Most itching during pregnancy is very normal and not a reason for concern. More severe itching may indicate an underlying liver condition called Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP) or Obstetric Cholestasis (OC). As we try to unravel the reason behind itchy skin and itchy legs during pregnancy, let's understand Cholestasis. But first, a bit about mild itching.
Wearing loose clothes may help prevent itching, as your clothes are less likely to rub against your skin and cause irritation. You may also want to avoid synthetic materials and choose natural fabrics such as cotton that allow the air to circulate close to your skin. You may find that having a cool bath or applying lotion or moisturiser can help to soothe the itching.
Some women find that products with strong perfumes can irritate their skin, so you could try using plain lotion or soap. Mild itching is not usually harmful to you or your baby, but it can sometimes be a sign of a more serious condition. If you’re worried, or if you have severe itching, it’s important to see your midwife or doctor.
What Is Obstetric Cholestasis?
OC is a liver condition that disrupts the flow of bile in the body during pregnancy. Bile salts generally flow from the liver to the digestive tract to aid in digestion. With OC, the flow of bile is disrupted causing a buildup of bile in the body. This causes severe itching all over the body, although for some women, itching occurs primarily on the hands and feet.
Such itching may worsen at night but is not typically accompanied by a rash. Other symptoms may include dark urine, gray bowel movements, and Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).
OC occurs most commonly during the third trimester, although it can develop earlier. The good news is that it generally subsides within a few days after delivery.
How Common Is OC?
OC affects less than 1% of pregnant women. But it is a potentially serious condition that needs to be monitored by your doctor. Particularly as it increases the risk for pregnancy complications such as preterm birth and stillbirth.
An additional condition that may cause itchiness is prurigo of pregnancy. This condition is characterized by small, itchy bumps on the skin which may be mistaken for insect bites.
Prurigo can occur at any point during pregnancy and may continue post-delivery. Many believe it is caused by changes in immune function during pregnancy. Fortunately, prurigo poses no risk to your baby.
How to Treat Itchy Skin Naturally During Pregnancy
If you experience mild itching during pregnancy, there are several natural steps you can take to alleviate your symptoms.
- Regularly apply an unscented lotion or moisturizer.
- Wear clothing that is loose so it is less likely to irritate the skin.
- Try to wear clothing made of natural fibers, such as cotton, which are more breathable than synthetic materials.
If you experience more severe itching, it is important to consult your physician. Your doctor may perform a set of liver function tests (LFTs) to determine if you have obstetric cholestasis. If you are diagnosed with OC, your doctor will need to regularly perform LFTS for the duration of your pregnancy to monitor the health of both you and the baby.
While there is currently no cure for OC, some options for easing symptoms include taking a warm bath or applying ice to an itchy area of skin. As OC can interfere with the absorption of vitamin K, which is necessary for proper blood clotting, your doctor may also recommend that you take a vitamin K supplement.
You may also find calamine lotion beneficial in alleviating the itching. Keep in mind, however, that the safety of using calamine lotion during pregnancy and breastfeeding is unknown, so make sure to talk with your doctor before using it.
When Naturally Doesn’t Work
If natural options do not work, you can consider taking medication. To treat prurigo, your doctor may prescribe topical emollients or steroids including oral antihistamines.
For OC, try not to to use corticosteroid creams during pregnancy as they are harmful to your baby. However, medications such as Urso, can help reduce bile in the mother’s blood. These medications also alleviate itchiness and reduce the risk of complications for the fetus. Urso is safe to take during pregnancy, although your doctor will caution you about using it during breastfeeding.
While such medication may help treat OC, your doctor may also want to induce labour early to prevent complications such as stillbirth. If you have OC, make sure to talk with your doctor or midwife about your options.