One day pregnancy is wonderful and exciting. The next you wake up with red, itchy, flaky—and maybe even oozing—patches.
If you can relate, you may be experiencing pregnancy eczema. Although eczema can seem like a minor skin condition, it can reduce the quality of life for some people. In some cases, patients live with a chronic itch or eyes so swollen they can barely close.
You need to be more careful about the treatments you use during pregnancy, but there are safe options that can help relieve your symptoms.
In this post, we’re covering why pregnancy eczema happens and how to treat it.
What is Eczema?
Eczema is a condition that makes skin patches become rough, itchy, cracked and blistered.
According to the National Eczema Association, almost 32 million Americans experience some form of the condition. There are several different types of eczema, but the most common is atopic dermatitis—meaning that it’s caused by problems with the immune system or skin barrier. Eczema can also be caused by trigger foods, such as dairy. Although harder to control, the condition may be the result of environmental factors, such as pollen or smoke.
Most often, when we think about eczema, we think about newborns. However, it can affect people into adulthood and during pregnancy. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for eczema. Instead, doctors focus treatment on healing the skin and managing symptoms.
Pregnancy and Eczema
It’s no secret that pregnancy can bring many skin changes, from acne to sensitive skin to eczema. Eczema during pregnancy has a variety of other names such as atopic eruption of pregnancy (AEP), pruritic folliculitis of pregnancy and papular dermatitis of pregnancy.
Women who suffer from eczema when they’re expecting may or may not have had the condition as a child or adult. If you’ve had eczema previously, it may flare up during pregnancy. About 20-40% of women who have the condition during pregnancy have a history of it. With that being said, eczema symptoms can also improve for 25% of women during pregnancy, according to one scientific review.
Signs of Pregnancy Eczema
The signs of eczema can vary based on person and severity. Symptoms in adults may include:
- Rashes or bumps, most commonly near skin creases such as knees and elbows
- Rashes pronounced in the facial area
- Itchy rashes
- Dry rashes
- Scaly rashes
- Crusty rashes
- When scratched, rashes can become more itchy and inflamed and may bleed
What Causes Eczema During Pregnancy?
Researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes eczema in general or in pregnancy. As we noted above, it could be caused by immune system problems, environmental factors, food triggers or genetics.
During pregnancy, your changing hormones may also play a role. That, in combination with allergens, may make your skin more sensitive than usual. Stress is also a trigger for eczema, which may also be a cause. When your life is changing and you’re tasked with getting physically, financially and emotionally prepared for a baby, it’s likely your anxiety levels have increased. In addition, if you live in a cold climate and are pregnant during winter, the added dryness in the air may contribute to your symptoms.
Still, it’s hard to say what causes eczema for you personally. Your doctor may be able to help you determine your own triggers.
Pregnancy Eczema Treatments
If you think you have eczema, you should see your doctor who can recommend a treatment that will work best for you and is safe during pregnancy.
You may find some relief by purchasing some medication from your local drugstore.
- Mild steroid creams— Low or mild steroid over-the-counter creams are generally okay during pregnancy. These lotions can reduce itchiness and other symptoms. Steroids are associated with low birth weight, but only at higher doses, which is typically well beyond what you’d need. But to be safe, check with your doctor first and consider diluting the cream with regular moisturizer.
- Antihistamines— Some doctors recommend antihistamines to reduce itchiness. Ask your doctor whether they’d recommend an over-the-counter option or if a prescription medication is better.
Home Remedies for Pregnancy Eczema
Apart from medication, there are some home remedies and lifestyle changes you could try to keep your eczema under control.
- Avoid triggers— Triggers can include common allergens such as dairy, nuts, wool and pet hair. You may want to pay attention to some unexpected irritants such as meats, fruits, fake jewelry, cigarette smoke or products containing alcohol. If you just discovered you have eczema, you probably have no idea what triggered it. In this case, it may be helpful to start a journal tracking your symptoms and your contact with the above allergens. After a while, you may begin to see a pattern between your rashes and something you’re eating or exposed to.
- Avoid getting too hot— Another trigger for some people is getting hot and sweaty. To prevent this, wear loose and comfortable clothing. If you live in a cold climate, wear layers and adjust as necessary. Taking warm instead of hot showers can also help.
- Don’t get dry— Many things you can do to prevent dryness will also help, especially if you’re pregnant during winter. This can include getting a humidifier and drinking lots of water. Try to use a moisturizer made for eczema or sensitive skin. Stay away from fragranced body butters and similar products. In addition, whenever you get out of the water (ex. showering or swimming), apply lotion right after drying off.
- Avoid products with fragrances— Even if fragranced products aren’t causing your eczema, they may be making your symptoms worse. When your skin is inflamed, products with chemicals can irritate it more. Pay attention to scents in shampoos, soaps, bubble baths, bath salts, cleaners, hand and dish soaps, etc. Those with very sensitive skin may also want to consider switching to fragrance-free clothing detergent. Some people think that buying natural products will help; however, you should know that you can still react to natural chemicals.
- Stay calm— Easier said than done, right? But when it comes to eczema, keeping your anxieties low can be helpful. Although experts aren’t sure why, stress is an eczema trigger. For example, some people notice that their symptoms get worse when they’re stressed. Learn how to destress in 9 ways, 10 ways to be a happy pregnant lady, 10 ways to get social supportor aim to slow things down by using mindfulness exercises during pregnancy.
When to See a Doctor
If you think you have eczema, you should talk to your doctor to get a proper diagnosis. Usually, he or she will be able to tell just by looking at your skin. In other cases, they may request a biopsy to rule out other conditions. Here’s the information you should have prepared when you meet with your doctor:
- When did you start noticing rashes?
- Have you changed anything (ex. diet) that could have led to the changes?
- Do you notice anything that triggers the rashes (foods, going outside, etc.)?
- Do you notice anything that makes the rashes better?
- What medications/remedies have you already tried for eczema? How have they worked?
If your condition is complicated, your doctor may refer you to a dermatologist. If this happens, make sure your new dermatologist knows you’re pregnant and make sure your family doctor knows about any medication changes.
If your skin isn’t responding to lifestyle changes or over-the-counter solutions, your doctor may prescribe different treatments. Since some eczema medications are off-limits during pregnancy, you have fewer options. Your doctor may recommend:
- Stronger steroid lotions— Steroid topicals are only available over-the-counter in low doses, which are typically safe for pregnancy. However, higher doses have more risk, so they need to be prescribed by your doctor.
- Oral steroids— If your eczema is severe and your doctor thinks the benefits outweigh the risks, he or she may prescribe you an oral steroid.
- Phototherapy (lighttherapy)— Light therapy can be prescribed to eczema patients and is safe during pregnancy if advised by your doctor. This treatment typically uses a machine to emit ultraviolet B light (UVB). It can help to reduce itchiness and calm inflammation. According to the National Eczema Association, about 70% of patients receive benefits from phototherapy. Since this treatment can deplete folic acid levels, talk to your doctor about getting the right nutrients. You can learn more about light therapy here.
Are you experiencing eczema during pregnancy? If so, comment below what has helped keep your symptoms at bay. If you know anyone else struggling with this skin condition during pregnancy, share this article with them!
P.S. Are you stressed about your bun in the oven? Worrying about whether your baby is okay can increase stress levels, which can trigger eczema. One way to fix this stress could be to use a fetal doppler. These amazing handheld devices allow you to listen to your baby’s heartbeat while she’s inside the womb. Many mothers find it a reassuring experience in between check-ups. Get yours for as low as $19.95.