Vaginal itching in pregnancy is a common experience. Potential causes include changes to the vagina during this period, or an infection. Identifying the cause can help with treatment and prevention.
Scientific studies have looked at the prevalence of conditions that may cause vaginal itching in a pregnant woman.
A 2015 study found that women are more likely to have vaginal yeast during pregnancy. Another 2019 study of women in Ghana found that 56.4% had a vaginal infection during pregnancy, while a 2017 analysis of women in Nigeria put the figure at 60.8%.
Some medications to treat vaginal infections are unsafe for pregnant women. For this reason, it is important to see a doctor or midwife to diagnose and treat vaginal pain or itching during pregnancy.
Vaginal itching may have a range of symptoms, including:
- pain at the entrance to the vagina
- itching and pain in and around the vulva
- itching and pain inside the vagina
- pain or itching that worsens after sexual intercourse
- burning in or around the vagina
- pain when urinating
Some people also notice an increase or change in vaginal discharge.
Similarly, some infections may cause a change in the smell of vaginal discharge.
Yeast infections do not typically cause a bad smell, though some people may notice an odor that resembles that of bread, beer, or something sweet.
The most common reasons for vaginal itching during pregnancy include:
Bacterial vaginosis is a bacterial infection of the vagina. In some cases, it may transmit from one sexual partner to another. In others, it may happen when something causes the normal bacterial balance of the vagina to change.
Bacterial vaginosis can cause pain and itching. One of the most noticeable symptoms, however, is a fishy odor that gets worse after sex.
Without treatment in pregnant women, the infection can cause preterm birth and low birth weight.
Vaginal yeast infection
A vaginal yeast infection causes too much yeast to grow in the vagina. Symptoms include intense itching and burning.
Some people also notice a thick, cottage cheese-like discharge. Severe cases can cause swelling in the vagina, or lead the skin to crack. This increases the risk of other infections.
Vaginal yeast tends to grow in warm, moist areas. Wearing cotton underwear and keeping the vagina dry, especially after exercise or sex, may reduce the risk.
Women who are pregnant, have diabetes, use hormonal contraceptives, or who have recently used antibiotics are more likely to get yeast infections.
A parasite causes a contagious sexually transmitted infection (STI) called trichomoniasis.
Only about 30% of people with the infection have symptoms. When symptoms are noticeable, they include vaginal itching and pain when urinating.
Trichomoniasis increases the risk of preterm labor and low birth weight.
Most people experience an increase in vaginal discharge and moisture during pregnancy. However, after delivery, vaginal dryness is common.
This dryness may cause itching and pain in the immediate postpartum period. The itching may get worse if a person uses soap to clean the area, as soap can dry the skin.
Treatment depends on the reason for the vaginal itching. The wrong treatment will not help and may even make the infection worse.
Yeast infections, for example, sometimes appear or get worse after a person uses antibiotics. People should see a doctor instead of self-diagnosing for effective diagnosis and treatment.
Bacterial vaginosis sometimes goes away on its own, or with home remedies. However, it is essential to treat it promptly with antibiotics because it increases the risk of negative pregnancy outcomes.
Many antibiotics are safe during pregnancy. Make sure the doctor or midwife knows about the pregnancy, so that they can select the right drug.
Vaginal yeast infections usually get better with antifungal treatment. Oral antifungal treatments are typically safe during pregnancy and often work better than over-the-counter remedies.
A woman should speak to a doctor before trying home remedies during pregnancy.
Medication to treat trichomoniasis involves killing the parasite that causes the condition. This medication is safe during pregnancy.
People who experience dryness-related itching after pregnancy may find relief from using vaginal lubricants during sex or trying long-term vaginal moisturizers.
As a person’s hormones return to normal, and their vagina recovers from any tears or injury during delivery, the itching usually goes away. If moisturizers do not help, it is advisable to see a doctor, as there could be an infection.
It is a myth that bad hygiene causes vaginal infections or vaginal itching during pregnancy. Frequent washing or showers will not prevent infections. Douching and perfumed soaps may even increase the risk of some infections.
Strategies that may help prevent vaginal itching during pregnancy include:
- wearing breathable cotton underwear
- keeping the vaginal area dry by not sitting in wet bathing suits or sweaty underwear
- taking antibiotics only when necessary
- using condoms or protection against STIs during sex
- limiting sexual partners
A person should see a doctor for any signs or symptoms of a vaginal infection. It is also important to see a doctor in the following circumstances:
- A person develops new symptoms after treating an infection.
- The symptoms get worse or do not improve after a few days of treatment.
- A person develops another vaginal infection after treatment.
- A woman has multiple vaginal infections during pregnancy.
Call a doctor right away, and go to the emergency room if the doctor does not answer, if:
- The baby stops moving.
- There are signs of labor, such as leaking fluid or contractions.
- There is bleeding from the vagina.
Vaginal itching during pregnancy is a common if painful experience. It is rarely dangerous, but having a diagnosis can help ensure the safety of the pregnant woman and developing fetus.
Vaginal infections are highly treatable, and treatment is usually safe for anyone who is pregnant.
Pregnant women experiencing persistent or severe vaginal itching should speak to a doctor. They can advise on safe treatments and prevention of future itching.