So I’ve noticed lately, and even before I actually found out I was pregnant, that I have become itchy all over. They estimate me at roughly 6 weeks. The itching seems to be mostly my scalp/shoulders/back/arms & legs. It gets really irritating, mainly at night. There is no rash or anything, just itching. Any reason for concern?” ~ Roberta, FL
Itchiness is common — during pregnancy and in general– and has been linked as a symptom to all sorts of things, from allergies to copper deficiency to sunburn to six itchy, rash-y skin disorders specific to pregnancy. But if it’s early in your pregnancy and you don’t have a rash or bumps, your more likely suspects are sun damage, hormones or allergies. Sun damage is a prime suspect, given your location and because pregnancy hormones make your skin more vulnerable to damage from exposure than usual.
Your skin could also be reacting to pregnancy hormones and fetal DNA beginning to circulate in your system. Interestingly, women expecting boys have been found to be more likely to have certain itchy skin conditions during pregnancy, and researchers think a reaction to fetal DNA may be to blame.
In some very rare cases, itching can be a sign of a liver condition called ICP (Intrahepatic Cholestatis of Pregnancy). Itching from cholestatis usually starts on palms and soles of the feet, though, and happens closer to the 20-week mark.
So, what can you do? Tell your health care provider about your itching if you still have it at your next appointment. In the meantime it may help to limit your sun exposure (the rays can still cause damage if you’re wearing sunscreen), to soak in an oatmeal bath before bed, and then slather on plenty of unscented moisturizer — cocoa and shea butter are good ingredients to look for.
Always patch-test any new moisturizer to make sure it doesn’t trigger an allergic reaction.
Avoid any products containing salicylic acid, retinols or benzoyl peroxide (the first two are potentially unsafe, the last is drying). Avoid steaming-hot baths or showers, scented soaps, bubble baths, wearing synthetic fabrics and washing your clothes with scented detergents or fabric softeners– all of these things can dry out or irritate skin, possibly making the itching worse.
If the itching is really driving you crazy ask your health care provider to recommend a pregnancy-safe antihistamine or skin treatment.