The pregnancy itch you should never ignore

Pregnancy can come with a range of uncomfortable, but to-be-expected, side effects from a constant need to pee, constipation, tender breasts and even bleeding gums – excessive itching is not one of them.

A US mum has Facebook friends to thank for potentially saving her daughter’s life after she complained in a post about an itch keeping her up at night while she was 35 weeks pregnant. The friends urged her to see her doctor and even offered up a potential diagnosis – a condition called Cholestasis.

Here’s what you need to know about the condition that can pose great harm to unborn babies.

Unbearable itch

Already dealing with the discomfort that comes from being in the third trimester of pregnancy, Christine DePino from Louisiana was desperate for relief from the persistent itch. “What had started as an all-over itch started to become more pronounced on the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet,” DePino told TODAY. “It got to the point that I could no longer sleep at night … my arms and legs were bleeding from all the scratching.”

Friends raise red flag

The first-time mum says her friends’ concerns prompted her to Google the condition, which is when she discovered it could cause great distress to the little girl she was carrying and even cause her to be stillborn. She called her doctor and tests confirmed she had intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP).

The decision was then made to induce Christine’s labour to lower the risk of harm to her unborn daughter – Lexa Rae was delivered on March 28 in great health.

“As soon as I was holding my beautiful baby girl in my arms, all I could think was, ‘What if?'” Christine told TODAY. “What if I had not complained on Facebook? What if no one had told me? All I could think was that I had to let other women know. I didn’t want any of them to wonder what had happened to their perfectly healthy baby.”

Christine took to Facebook again, to share her close call and thank her friends for raising the alarm, in a post that has been shared more than 25,000 times.

“If you’re pregnant and you’re itching REALLY bad, don’t ignore it!!” she wrote.

What is ICP?

ICP Care explains the condition “is a group of liver disorders specific to pregnancy which interfere with the flow of bile”. During ICB, the body’s cells are unable to move the bile out normally causing bile acids to build up in the blood.

What causes ICP?

The causes of ICP range from genetics, hormones and environmental factors or a combination.

Why is it dangerous?

The elevated levels of bile acid in the blood put the unborn baby at a higher risk of being born prematurely, in distress, meconium (first poo) passage in utero, respiratory distress syndrome, breathing failure and stillbirth. While ICP is of little risk to mum, in some cases it can also cause maternal haemorrhage.

What are the symptoms to look for?

Moderate to severe itching is the most likely symptom you will notice. Sometimes the itching is concentrated to certain areas of the body and in other cases it can be felt all over. It is not usually accompanied by a rash. Other symptoms can include dark urine, pale stools, pain in the right upper area of the body, fatigue, mild depression, pre-term labour, nausea and on rare occasions, jaundice.

What is the treatment for ICP?

There is no cure for ICP except delivery. Medication can be prescribed to help control the bile acid levels but baby is also usually delivered by 37 weeks gestation.

Alison Balding

Alison Balding

Alison is a journalist and mum to an energetic, superhero-obsessed, three-year-old boy and wife to her high school sweetheart turned Sydney firefighter. When she isn't burning dinner or walking on the beach near her home on the NSW south coast, she is watching Octonauts on repeat. Going to the movies without having to share her choc top is her idea of bliss.

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