Why Do I Have Itchy Feet During Pregnancy?

itchy feet

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There is almost nothing more annoying than feeling itchy. Just thinking about being itchy can make you itchier! Some people experience an uptick in itchy skin during their pregnancy. The itching can happen all over the body or be confined to a couple of areas, such as the feet.

Often, itchy feet during pregnancy are common and not a problem. If you are consistently scritching and scratching, though, it’s important to tell a healthcare provider so that they can rule out a condition called cholestasis of pregnancy, a liver disease which can cause itchy feet and hands during pregnancy.

Let's take a deeper look at why your feet may be itchy during pregnancy, what the causes are, when to seek medical attention—and most importantly, how to get some much-needed relief.

Why Do People Have Itchy Feet During Pregnancy?

There are several different reasons why your feet may be itchy during pregnancy, including hormones, increased sweating, and experiencing skin conditions like psoriasis. These are not considered serious conditions, and can be managed with at-home comfort measures or doctor-approved medications.

At times, itchy feet during pregnancy is caused by a condition called cholestasis of pregnancy. In cholestasis, the pregnancy hormones trigger the liver to dysfunction, which produces a build up of bile in the liver and bloodstream, ultimately resulting in very itchy feet and hands. Cholestasis can be harmful to your baby, so it’s important that it be treated, and that you inform your healthcare provider of any persistent itchiness you may be experiencing.

Causes of Itchy Feet in Pregnancy

The changing pregnancy hormones are one of the most frequent causes of itchy feet, says Cindy M. Duke, MD, a fertility Eexpert and virologist. Hormonal changes can impact your nerve endings, Dr. Duke explains, making them more sensitive and more prone to feeling itchy.

“Some patients will find that their nerves are a little more aggravated, especially if they have any underlying conditions,” Dr. Duke says. Specifically, pregnant people who have fibromyalgia, or other conditions that are nerve-related, may experience more skin sensitivity and itching during pregnancy, Dr. Duke describes. Talk about something getting on your nerves!

Pregnancy also causes your skin to stretch all over, which can lead to dehydration and moisture loss, both of which can cause your skin to feel itchy, explains Dr. Duke. Many pregnant individuals find that their feet have flattened. The wider surface area on your feet can cause your feet to become dryer and more sweaty, which can lead to itchy feet, Dr. Duke adds.

Sometimes certain skin conditions can emerge or become worse during pregnancy. For example, psoriasis, an autoimmune skin disease that causes itchy red or silvery patches, can sometimes flare during pregnancy. Although pregnancy often causes a relief in terms of psoriasis aggravation, for about 10-20% of pregnant parentt, pregnancy makes psoriasis worse.

Another skin condition that can emerge during pregnancy is PUPPP (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy). PUPPP isn’t considered serious or harmful to your baby, but it can be very uncomfortable. It usually appears as an itchy rash on your stomach, and can spread to your thighs, arms, and bottom.

Tamika Cross, MD, FACOG and author of “What a Doctor Looks Like,” says that sometimes PUPPP can spread to your feet, and may be a cause of your constant itchy feet. “PUPPP does not usually present on the feet but it can technically present anywhere on the body,” Dr. Cross explains. “So if someone says ‘I'm itching everywhere,’ I always like to rule that out.”

What to Know About Cholestasis

Cholestasis, also known as intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP) or obstetric cholestasis, is a liver condition that affects about one or two of every 1,000 expectant parents. It’s also a potential cause of itching in pregnancy, particularly if you are experiencing itchiness of the feet and hands.

Neha Singla Jani, DPM, AACFAS, a podiatrist at Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists, explains that cholestasis occurs as a result of reduction or stoppage in the liver’s ability to process bile, the digestive fluid produced by the liver.

“The pathogenesis of itching in cholestasis is unknown, but some hypotheses have been proposed, including bile acid accumulation in the skin that acts as agents that cause itching,” Dr. Jani explains.

Cholestasis usually happens toward the end of pregnancy, says Dr. Jani, and can be experienced throughout the body or in localized areas. If the itching is confined to specific parts of the body, the hands and feet are the most common areas. Itching intensity tends to wax and wane, and is often worse at night, leading to disturbed sleep. There is no rash involved with cholestasis, just itching.

Itching of the hands and feet are the main symptoms of cholestasis, but sometimes you might also notice other symptoms, including nausea, exhaustion, low appetite, dark colored urine, and pain in the upper right side of your belly. Your eyes and skin may appear jaundiced (yellowed) as well.

Cholestasis doesn’t just cause annoying and concerning symptoms: it’s a serious medical condition that can cause harm to developing babies if not treated. Untreated cholestasis can result in premature birth, fetal distress, respiratory issues in babies, and stillbirths. That’s why it’s important to take any persistent itchiness in pregnancy seriously, and report your symptoms to a healthcare provider.

Dr. Jani notes that how itchy you are doesn’t tell you how significant a case of cholestasis you have. “It is important to keep in mind that the severity of the itching does not correlate with the severity of the underlying liver disease,” she explains.

Again, this underlines the importance of reporting any new symptoms of itchiness to a healthcare provider, as they can help determine if you need to be tested, and then treated, for cholestasis.

Diagnosis for cholestasis involves a blood test and physical exam. Treatment involves medication; if that doesn’t work, early delivery of your baby may be advised.

Ways to Relieve and Manage Itchiness

Cases of itchy feet during pregnancy that aren’t caused by cholestasis usually respond well to at-home remedies, as well as over-the-counter medications.

Dr. Duke suggests remedies such as warm or cold water soaks, cold compresses, and making sure to change your socks frequently. Having dry feet can cause itchiness, so moisturizers can be helpful. You can even use a moisturizer with anti-itch ingredients, such as calamine lotion, or lotions with diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benadryl).

If you have been diagnosed with cholestasis, correcting the underlying issue will improve your itching. You will likely be prescribed a medication called ursodeoxycholic acid to treat cholestasis.

While you wait for the medication to work, you can treat your cholestasis itchiness with warm baths, moisturizers, and antihistamines, suggests Dr. Jani. Of course, you should clear any over-the-counter medication you are considering using with a healthcare provider.

A Word from Verywell

Pregnancy has a huge impact on our entire bodies, and for many of us, that translates to being more itchy than usual. When the itchiness only lasts for a short time and isn’t too bothersome, there is nothing we need to do about it, besides employ simple comfort measures and wait for the itchiness to pass.

But any itchiness that is persistent or distressing should be reported to your healthcare provider. Itching that involves your hands and feet and that is worse at night could be a sign of cholestasis, a serious condition that can impact your baby if not properly treated. If you do end up having cholestasis, try not to worry. With proper care, cholestasis can be effectively managed and treated.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. C.F. Mott Children’s Hospital website. Pregnancy: Stretch Marks, Itching, and Skin Changes.

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Additional Reading

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.