Itchy Stomach During Pregnancy: Is It Normal?

One of the most maddening side effects you might encounter during pregnancy is this: as your belly grows, it starts to itch like crazy. So you scratch ... which makes your belly itch even more, and a vicious cycle ensues. You dig your nails into your baby bump and claw away, all the while YOU sit there wondering what's wrong with you, and what you should do, because this itching is driving you to distraction.


First off, rest assured that you've got plenty of company. "Itching during pregnancy is the number one dermatological complaint in pregnancy," says Jessica Shepherd, an OB/GYN at Most often, it's due to the simple fact that your belly is expanding at an astronomical rate, which leads to dry skin. Treating the dry skin is often all it takes to end the problem.

"If it feels better with over-the-counter moisturizers or cocoa butter, then it’s normal and there’s nothing to worry about," says Barb Dehn, RN, a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and author of Nurse Barb's Guide to Pregnancy. Coconut oil or olive oil can also help relieve the pain.

That said, sometimes an itchy belly can be a sign of more serious health problems, says Dehn. "Occasionally, a mom will develop a less common condition known as PUPPP, which stands for Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy," she explains. PUPPP isn't dangerous, but it does result in raised red bumps and blotches on the skin that Dehn warns can cause "intense itching which can make it difficult to impossible to sleep."

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While annoying, PUPPP typically dissipates after baby is born, and there's more good news: there is relief available. "Most pregnancy-induced itching can be treated with steroid creams and Benadryl," says Dr. Shepherd.

Occasionally, itching during pregnancy can signal a more serious problem that has nothing to do with your skin at all: a liver problem called cholestasis during pregnancy. For this condition the itching usually crops up all over the body (particularly the hands and feet) and may be accompanied by yellow, jaundiced skin or loss of appetite. While rare -- affecting about 1 percent of pregnancies -- this condition increases your risk of stillbirth, so it's wise to talk to your doctor as they may recommend early delivery. 

Bottom line: be sure to check with your OB/GYN -- not only to stop itching, but to rule out any more serious problems. 

Did you experience an itchy belly during pregnancy?


Image © Hannes Hepp/Corbis

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