People may experience postpartum hives after giving birth. Hives are raised, itchy bumps on the skin.
Hormonal, psychological, and immune system changes occurring in the body due to pregnancy and childbirth may be factors in developing postpartum hives.
Hives can be uncomfortable. However, they are not contagious and will usually resolve with home remedies or topical treatments.
This article discusses the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for postpartum hives.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Postpartum hives are hives that some people experience after giving birth. Hives are itchy, raised bumps on the skin that occur as a skin reaction to histamine production. The medical term for hives is urticaria.
Hives can occur due to an allergic reaction. Pregnancy may worsen allergies in some people, making them more sensitive to allergens.
Prolactin produced during breastfeeding may cause postpartum hives if people have an allergic reaction to high prolactin levels.
People may experience many changes after giving birth and while caring for a newborn, and factors such as stress can also cause hives.
Symptoms of hives include:
- raised, itchy bumps on the skin
- on darker skin, hives may be the same, slightly lighter, or slightly darker than the person’s usual skin tone
- on light or medium-toned skin, hives may be red or pink and the center may turn white when pressed
Hives can occur anywhere on the body. However, they commonly affect the following areas:
- upper arms
- upper legs
Hives can also occur on mucous membranes, such as the eyelids and mouth.
Hives occur due to the immune system releasing the chemical histamine when it perceives a threat. Histamine helps protect the body from infection and illness.
The body releases histamine during an allergic reaction, which can cause hives. People may have an allergic reaction to:
- an insect sting or bite
- pet dander
- plants and pollen
One-third of people with asthma and allergies find that their allergies worsen with pregnancy, which may lead to heightened allergic reactions and hives.
Hives can also develop due to:
- overreaction to sweat, heat, or cold
- pressure on the skin
- medical treatment, such as a blood transfusion
People have an increased risk of developing hives if they:
- are women of African American heritage
- have eczema
A 2022 case study details a rare case of hives during breastfeeding. The study suggests that postpartum hives may be an allergic reaction to high levels of prolactin, a hormone that allows milk production.
Hives are not contagious, so people will not pass hives on to a baby or another person.
Medical treatment for hives may include:
- over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription antihistamines
- corticosteroids, such as prednisone
- immune modulators
People may require an epinephrine auto-injector, if they have any warning signs of anaphylaxis, such as difficulty breathing or swollen tongue or lips.
Treatment with bromocriptine, a dopamine antagonist that reduces prolactin, may be effective if high prolactin levels cause hives. Antihistamines and glucocorticoids may also help.
According to a 2018 study, herbal medicine and acupuncture were effective in treating a case of postpartum hives that did not respond to antihistamines or topical steroids.
If people are breastfeeding, they should check with a healthcare professional whether medications or alternative treatments are safe to use.
People may be able to relieve symptoms at home by:
- applying a cool compress to the skin for 10–20 minutes as required
- applying anti-itch creams to the skin
- trying to avoid scratching the hives
- soaking in a colloidal oatmeal, lukewarm bath
- wearing loose, comfortable clothing made with 100% cotton
- bathing in lukewarm water and avoiding scrubbing the skin
- using fragrance-free soaps, as these may be less irritating to the skin
- tracking symptoms in a journal, which may help people identify triggers
Hives may resolve on their own within a few days or weeks. People may have chronic hives if they last for 6 weeks or more.
If people have hives for 6 weeks or longer, they can contact a doctor to rule out underlying medical conditions that may be causing the hives.
Hives are raised, itchy skin bumps that occur when the immune system releases histamine in response to a perceived threat.
People may develop hives postpartum for various reasons, such as allergic reactions, stress, or hormonal changes.
People can treat hives with home remedies, such as cool compresses and oatmeal baths. OTC and prescription treatments include antihistamines, steroid creams, or immune modulators.
People will need immediate medical attention if they have symptoms of a severe allergic reaction.