It seems as though the minute you start scrolling through "due date" Google searches on your browser, you get targeted ads for "belly itch relief." And it's warranted. When I was pregnant, my skin felt like it was doused in ants, and I constantly wondered, "Why is my belly itchy during pregnancy, but fine the rest of the time?" It's not like the baby is shoving around the skin of your belly, so what gives?
Turns out, those cocoa butter and moisturizer commercials aren't wrong: pregnancy is an itchy, itchy time to be alive. Before I was even far enough along to announce my pregnancy, my lower belly was a beehive of scratchy annoying skin pulled across my expanding womb. What causes the skin on the belly to become so sensitive and itchy? In a word — stretching. Let's do an experiment: pull the skin of your arm taut and hold it for a minute. Before that minute is up, you will probably start to feel a real need to scratch the stretched skin. Stretching of the skin caused by the growing of the uterus, as well as hormonal changes, according to The American Pregnancy Association, is the reason your belly itches so fiercely. It's also why it starts so early. Your skin begins stretching early in pregnancy to allow it room to grow as the uterus punches out from your pelvis, providing space for your growing baby.
There are a few instances, however, where your itching may not be so common and require medical attention. One of them is if the itching is caused by a condition known as intrahepatic choleostasis of pregnancy (ICP). According to the Mayo Clinic, this is a bile duct disorder that occurs most often in the third trimester of pregnancy. It occurs when the flow of bile changes or slows, and the gallbladder can no longer keep the bile flowing in the right direction. The bile then builds up in the liver, flowing into the bloodstream. Most women who have ICP may have severe and intense itching all over their body, but primarily in the surfaces of their hands and feet. It is a dangerous condition that needs to be treated immediately. Many women with ICP will also appear jaundiced or yellow and have dark urine.
The other condition that might be causing your itchy belly is a disorder known as pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy, or PUPPP rash for short, noted Healthline. This is when you develop little bumps in and around the stretch marks on your abdomen and breasts late in your pregnancy, and let me tell you — they itch really, really bad. Like, you'd gladly bathe in lemon juice and the saliva of 10 pack mules if it would relieve the itching bad.
According to Healthline, science isn't really sure what causes PUPPP, but they know that white women get it way more often than anyone else, it occurs in one in 150 pregnancies, and they do have treatments for it. These include, but are not limited to, antihistamines, steroids, and itch-relieving baths. I tried all of these when I got a PUPPP rash in my second pregnancy, and the only cure was delivering her.
For most women wondering why their belly is so itchy during pregnancy, it's a simple answer — it's all about the stretch. And according to the American Pregnancy Association, it actually can be treated with some of those products littering every pregnancy magazine and website. Who knows, maybe you'll find the golden moisturizer that fixes all of the itch and the smell doesn't make you want to throw bottles at random passersby. I never did, but you might.