Itching during pregnancy is normal; hormone fluxes and skin stretching combine to create all manner of weird dermic conditions. But if the itching is extreme, it could be a disorder requiring medical intervention–obstetric cholestasis (OC),
OC, also sometimes referred to as intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP), is disorder that occurs when the flow of bile from the liver is reduced–meaning an excess of toxic bile salts in the blood. Scientists posit that this may affect the unborn baby’s heart and the placenta.
Approximately 5,000 women in the UK present with symptoms of OC every year. The cause is unclear–but a hereditary, as well as pregnancy hormone link has been found.
The condition usually appears around 28 weeks–sometimes earlier–with severe itching, more so at night. Other symptoms could include pale stools, dark urine, and jaundice.
“When the itching starts, it can be hard to sleep, but you don’t get a rash like you would with a normal skin condition,” says Henry Annan, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
While the potential risks associated with OC are serious–spontaneous premature labour, foetal distress and, in very severe cases, stillbirth–the good news is that proper management and earlier delivery of your baby will keep him better protected; and within around a week postpartum, all symptoms of the condition clear, with no permanent liver damage. The important thing is to speak with your doctor if you are concerned about itching–or any unusual skin development in pregnancy.