You expected to get bigger, more easily fatigued ... but itchier? It happens to about one-fifth of pregnant women. The itchiness may be on your abdomen or all over your body, and it may cause patches of red, flaky rash. Skin stretching over the abdomen probably accounts for some of the itching and flaking. Generalized itchiness usually goes away shortly after you give birth.

A common skin problem called pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) also can occur during pregnancy. With this condition, you break out with itchy bumps called papules or plaques on your abdomen or possibly on your thighs, buttocks or arms.

Rarely, women have a specific cause for general itchiness called cholestasis of pregnancy. In this condition, bile isn't cleared from the liver as quickly as it should be. It causes components to build up in the skin, triggering severe itching.

■ Prevention and self-care for itchiness

Scratching isn't the best way to relieve an itch. Try these measures:

• Moisturize your skin with lotion, creams or oils.

• Wear loose clothing made from natural fibers, such as cotton.

• Use an oatmeal bath formula.

• Avoid getting overheated because you'll probably itch more if you're too warm.

■ When to seek medical help for itchiness

If self-care measures don't provide relief for your itches, your health care provider may prescribe medication or other treatment techniques that can help. PUPPP can be treated with prescription medications.

If severe itching develops late in your pregnancy, your health care provider may order blood tests to check your liver function. Cholestasis of pregnancy can cause severe itching. Very rarely, it can also cause vomiting, loss of appetite and fatigue. This problem goes away after the baby is born.

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