Some people develop skin rashes during pregnancy. The medical name for this is pregnancy dermatosis. Rashes can vary in severity and duration, depending on what causes them.
Hormone levels, stretching skin, genetics, and blood flow can all play a role.
This article discusses seven types of rash that can occur during pregnancy, including their symptoms and treatments. It also looks at how people can manage the symptoms at home.
Itchy skin is common during pregnancy, and some people also develop rashes. Some types of rash are specific to pregnancy, while others can occur at any time. However, some rashes may be more likely during pregnancy for some people due to the physical changes their body is going through.
In most cases, skin rashes are not serious and do not indicate a problem with the fetus. However, identifying the cause early on is important, as some rashes are a symptom of an underlying condition.
Some rashes that can occur during pregnancy include:
- heat rash
- atopic eruption of pregnancy
- pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) rash
- intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP)
- impetigo herpetiformis
- pemphigoid gestationis
Pregnancy can cause people to feel unusually warm because of increased blood supply to the skin. As a result, a person may find that they sweat more, which, in some cases, may lead to a heat rash.
A heat rash, or prickly heat, causes an itchy patch of tiny blisters on the skin. Staying cool and dry can help heat rashes heal. If a person experiences heat rashes, they can try:
- wearing loose clothing made from natural fibers, such as cotton
- working and sleeping in cool, well-ventilated rooms
- changing out of wet clothing as soon as possible
- using cool water compresses on the rash
Hives look like raised bumps or welts on the skin. They itch and often occur due to an allergic reaction. However, there are other possible causes, including:
- scratching the skin
- pressure on the skin
A person can treat mild hives at home by cooling the skin. If the hives are severe or occur alongside swelling or difficulty breathing, a person should seek immediate medical help.
- atopic eczema
- prurigo of pregnancy
- pruritic folliculitis of pregnancy
Eczema is a very dry and itchy rash that appears red in lighter skin and gray or brown in darker skin. People who develop eczema during pregnancy may find that lesions flare up more than usual during the first and second trimesters.
Prurigo of pregnancy involves a rash that consists of papules, which are small bumps filled with fluid. Pruritic folliculitis causes papules that resemble pimples, or acne.
These conditions are uncomfortable but do not pose a risk to the pregnant person or the fetus. The rash will often disappear after delivery. Until then, a doctor may prescribe emollients, steroid creams, or antihistamines to reduce itching.
A PUPPP rash develops when the skin stretches, damaging the layer of tissue underneath. This causes inflammation, which appears as a rash. A PUPPP rash sometimes begins in the second trimester but usually develops in the final 3 months of pregnancy. It goes away after giving birth.
A PUPPP rash is itchy and produces bumps on the skin, but it does not cause complications. A doctor may suggest using oral antihistamines, skin emollients, or steroid medication to treat it.
ICP, or obstetric cholestasis (OC), is a potentially serious liver condition that can occur during pregnancy. It causes severe itching that begins on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet before spreading to other parts of the body. The itching may occur with or without a rash.
Sometimes, itching is the only symptom of ICP. Occasionally, a person may also develop jaundice, which causes the nails, skin, and eyes to become slightly yellow. ICP typically occurs in the third trimester.
The likelihood of developing ICP differs among ethnic groups. The condition affects 1% of females of Northern European ancestry. It is more common in people of Scandinavian or Araucanian Indian descent.
ICP can cause pregnancy complications, so early recognition, diagnosis, treatment, and close surveillance are very important. Severe itching in pregnancy is not normal, so a person should see a doctor immediately if this occurs.
This rash begins as lesions in the skin folds. These can then spread across the surface of the skin, covering large patches. The skin may crust or become infected. People can also experience:
- rapid heartbeat
Impetigo herpetiformis usually resolves after a person gives birth, but there is a risk of stillbirth. In rare cases, this condition is fatal. Doctors manage the condition and reduce these risks by prescribing systemic corticosteroids and antibiotics.
If a person experiences impetigo herpetiformis during one pregnancy, they may experience it again in future pregnancies.
Pemphigoid gestationis is a rare autoimmune disease that affects 1 in every 50,000 pregnancies. It causes an itchy, hive-like rash that begins around the navel and then spreads to other parts of the body. The rash may also include blisters.
This condition often begins in the second or third trimester. It can resolve during late pregnancy, but it often flares up before delivery. After pregnancy, the menstrual cycle or use of oral birth control pills may trigger the rash to return.
In 5–10% of pemphigoid gestationis cases, newborns are born with skin lesions. However, the exact risk that this condition poses to the fetus is unclear.
Mild rashes, such as hives, heat rash, or mild eczema, can improve with home management. A person can try the following methods to soothe irritated skin and ease itching:
- keeping the skin clean and dry using a gentle, unscented cleanser
- washing with cool or lukewarm water rather than hot or cold water
- moisturizing the skin using an unscented emollient, particularly after bathing, showering, or washing the hands
- avoiding products that may irritate the skin, such as harsh soaps or perfumes
- wearing loose, soft fabrics, such as cotton or linen
- using cool compresses, colloidal oatmeal baths, or calamine lotion to soothe itching
- avoiding scratching the skin, as this can make some skin conditions worse
Many forms of pregnancy rash are harmless, but it is always best to see a doctor so that they can identify the cause and confirm that a person does not need medical treatment. A doctor can also advise on the best way to care for skin conditions during pregnancy.
A person should seek immediate treatment if a rash:
- appears suddenly and spreads quickly
- causes severe itching or pain
- co-occurs with difficulty breathing and swelling
- is weeping pus or looks infected
A person should also see a doctor as soon as possible if they experience severe itchiness without a rash.
Rashes and itchy skin are common during pregnancy. Many rashes are harmless and may resolve after giving birth. However, in rare cases, rashes can be a sign of a more serious condition.
If a person does not know the cause of a pregnancy rash, they should see a doctor for a diagnosis.