Itchy Feet During Pregnancy: Know When It's Dangerous

Itchy Feet During Pregnancy?

Itchy tummy during pregnancy is normal, as your belly skin is stretching. Extreme itchiness of hands and feet that gets worse at night, however, could be a sign of cholestasis, a potentially dangerous condition.
Itchy tummy during pregnancy is normal, as your belly skin is stretching. Extreme itchiness of hands and feet that gets worse at night, however, could be a sign of cholestasis, a potentially dangerous condition.

Some itchiness during pregnancy is very common, especially in the belly area where skin is being stretched. If you are in your third trimester and begin to have extremely itchy feet, toes, hands, or fingers, especially at night, consult your physician. You may have a condition called obstetric cholestasis, which can be dangerous if not treated.

Obstetric cholestasis is a condition that generally reveals itself in the third trimester. It's not as not as rare as you might think. It occurs when pregnancy hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, cause the liver to essentially shut down. Instead of passing the bile and toxins through your gallbladder and out your digestive system, the bile and toxins are released into the mother's bloodstream.

Left untreated, this condition can be incredibly dangerous to fetal development and can lead to premature or even still-birth. This article highlights the condition's symptoms and treatment. I have also included my story of experiencing cholestasis as a first-time mother.

Cholestasis Symptoms

Here are the symptoms of cholestasis. If you are in your third trimester of pregnancy and you are experiencing any or all of these symptoms, please seek your healthcare provider's attention immediately, as time is of the essence.

  • Severe itching, particularly in the feet, toes, hands, or fingers that generally worsens at night.
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Depression

Treatment for Cholestasis of Pregnancy

Fortunately, obstetric cholestasis is fairly treatable. You can expect the following:

At Home

  • A drug called ursodeoxycholic acid. This pill prevents the bile from entering the baby's bloodtream by absorbing it. It even helps relieve the itching.
  • Soothing lotions. These won't help with anything going on internally, but they will relieve itching, helping the mother tolerate the rest of her pregnancy.

At the Doctor

  • In addition to prescribing the ursodoxycyclic acid after confirming the diagnosis, the doctor will order weekly blood tests to ensure that the mother's liver enzymes are decreasing, which signals that the drug is working.
  • The doctor will also order weekly non-stress tests. These tests monitor the baby's activity and heartrate for a set period of time (20 to 30 minutes). The tests make sure that he or she is still happy and healthy. The doctor will need bi-weekly sonograms to prove that the baby is still growing and to make sure the lungs are working properly.
  • The doctor will also call for an early induction. In severe cases, this may occur before the baby is full-term, which is 37 weeks, but generally the baby can make it to 37 or 38 weeks without any harm. After the baby's lungs have developed, the doctor will decide whether the baby is safer outside the womb at this point than inside the womb where he or she is still susceptible to the toxins released by the mother's liver.

My Cholestasis Story

When I was about 31 weeks pregnant, I experienced severe itching one night. It was so violent, in fact, that I couldn't stop. It felt like little fire ants were crawling under my skin and I just wanted them to go away! The itching sensation started in my back and abdomen, then travelled all over my body to my head and arms, and finally concentrated itself in one obnoxious place: my feet.

After two nights spent scratching my feet raw, I decided to search for these strange symptoms online. I was teaching at the time, so I used my planning period at school to perform the research. The results were devastating. Though many websites assured me that itching feet during pregnancy was normal, I fould a few websites that discussed obstetric cholestasis.

Here's the scary part: many of the mothers affected with this condition gave birth to babies who didn't make it. If the bile and toxins from the liver reach the baby's bloodstream, it can potentially act as a poison to the fetus.

A True Love Story


What terrifying news! My heart was broken, but I had to keep my emotions in check and continue to teach a full day of rowdy high schoolers.

As soon as a I had a free moment, I called my doctor and my husband. I printed off all my resources about this condition, because I read online that cholestasis is often misdiagnosed or dismissed as allergies. When I read the symptoms, I realized how closely mine aligned. I knew I had this, and I wasn't taking any chances.

My brilliant doctor immediately knew what was wrong. He had seen a case of it in medical school and he immediately ordered bloodwork to confirm his suspicions. He transferred me to a doctor in a larger city than the small town we were living in, and I was well cared for rom that point on.

A Very Happy Ending

On February 14, 2012, I was 36.5 weeks pregnant and went in for induced labor. My womb had become an unsafe environment for my baby. Rylan Bentley Brown came into the world healthy and adorable, just 5 pounds 8 oz. He made it! Thanks to the attentive care of my doctors and nurses and the prayers of my friends and family, my husband and I now share a wonderful 8-month-old bundle of joy. We don't know what we would do without him, and we want everyone to take the strict precautions we did when we sensed something strange happening.

Comments 1 comment

Joni 10 months ago

Ok. So my right heel is itching like crazy.... deep itch... I 32 weeks pregnant with my second child... I had severe preeclampsia with my first pregnancy (delivering her at just 36 weeks) and so of course I'm on edge with this one. Being monitored weekly... since my feet are itching to the point where they are almost raw, I turn to the Internet to search through pregnancy blogs for the best way to tame the annoying itch that I assumed was normal during 3rd trimester... when I stumbled across your post. The only reason it really caught my eye is because it talks about toxins traveling through the gallbladder... Well I had emergency gallbladder surgery last year. I had many complications with that procedure so now I am concerned... I will be calling the doctors office in the morning. It may not be an issue... but I now have concerns...

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