Is Pregnancy Making My Eczema Worse?

Pregnancy Eczema

Every pregnancy is different. Some lucky women experience the fabled pregnancy “glow,” with shiny hair and clear skin. For many others, though, pregnancy changes are less pleasant. If you’ve dealt with eczema before, pregnancy can trigger a flare-up. Even if you’ve never had skin issues, you may notice some itchy new changes over these nine months.

Eczema in Pregnancy

If you’ve noticed a red, itchy rash on your skin, you are not alone. Eczema is the most common skin condition in pregnancy, and it even accounts for as many as half of total eczema cases! It doesn’t even matter much if you’ve never had eczema before. Only about 20%-40% of pregnant people with eczema had previous history with the rash.

Eczema in pregnancy goes by several different names. You may hear your doctor describe it as:

  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Atopic eruption of pregnancy (AEP)
  • Prurigo
  • Papular dermatitis of pregnancy

What Is Eczema?

Eczema isn’t one distinct disease. Rather, it’s a term that applies to a variety of skin conditions that share a common presentation. Eczema shows up as a red, itchy skin inflammation. Irritated skin can be bumpy or scaly, with little papules that may break and bleed if you scratch them. In most cases, a simple visual examination is all a doctor needs to do to confirm the diagnosis.

How Can I Treat Eczema During Pregnancy?

For about 25% of people who had eczema before pregnancy, having a bun in the oven actually makes symptoms improve. More than half, though, will experience worse symptoms. We’ll guess you’re reading this article because you’re dealing with a worse case of eczema than usual (or want to get prepared, just in case).

Typically, your doctor will recommend treating eczema with a topical ointment to apply to the rash, as well as making lifestyle adjustments to keep your skin healthy. Steroid ointments, which are usually used for fairly severe eczema, are generally considered safe during pregnancy. Ask your doctor about how often you can apply a steroid cream, or whether there’s a limit on surface area. Your best treatment options may be different depending on whether you have a small but severe rash, or a milder rash that covers a large portion of your body.

Keeping your skin well-hydrated can help naturally improve eczema:

  • Drink plenty of water. During pregnancy, you should aim for 10 8-ounce glasses of water per day, and more if you’re exercising or spending time outside in warm temperatures.
  • Use humidifiers in your home (especially your bedroom) to minimize drying effects of the air.
  • Make showers or baths warm, not overly hot.
  • Use a gentle moisturizer after a bath or shower.
  • Use gentle cleansers, because harsh soaps can further irritate inflamed skin.
  • Try adding some colloidal oatmeal to your bath.
  • Avoid irritating fabrics, like wool or clothing with embellishments like sequins.

If you were taking medication to treat eczema before pregnancy, it’s important to tell your doctor as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. Some eczema medications aren’t safe for an embryo or fetus, and your doctor may advise replacing your usual treatment with a milder option. This may lead to symptoms getting worse if you usually needed the stronger treatment to manage symptoms. Ask your doctor about your specific situation, so you understand the benefits and risks of treatment options.

Can My Eczema Harm My Baby?

If you’re miserable, you may wonder if your skin troubles are hurting your baby, or if your little one will “catch” eczema from your outbreak. Eczema is not linked with miscarriage, birth defects, or premature birth. In some specific cases, such as if you have an actively infected rash when you are in labor, or have another condition like herpes that could commingle with the eczema, your doctor may advise additional precautions or treatment. Developing eczema is not a sign that your pregnancy is going “wrong.”

If you have eczema, that’s also not a guarantee you’ll pass the condition along to your baby. Eczema isn’t contagious. Your baby won’t contract eczema through exposure during pregnancy or breastfeeding. What is possible is that you may have a gene that makes eczema more likely, and you may pass that gene to your baby. Some studies show that environmental factors, such as certain allergenic foods, may have an effect on whether a baby develops eczema. Ask your doctor if there are foods you should avoid while pregnant or breastfeeding to minimize the chances of your baby developing eczema.

Jessica Sillers
Jessica Sillers is a parenting and finance writer whose work has been featured in Pregnancy & Newborn, Headspace, and more. As a new mom herself, she’s passionate about helping other parents find the community and support they need. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, reading, and hiking.

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