Many people who have a history of eczema notice that the skin condition tends to worsen during pregnancy, likely thanks to changing hormones and other shifts that occur in the body while growing a baby. Additionally, if you’ve had eczema in the past, pregnancy might be a time when your eczema reappears. Others experience eczema for the first time while pregnant. The itchy, inflamed skin patches may linger (or show up for the first time) after your baby is born, too.

Wondering why eczema often pops up with pregnancy and during the postpartum stage, and how to keep your symptoms in check? Here is a guide for managing your eczema after delivery and beyond.

When Does Eczema Occur During Pregnancy?

The most common time for eczema to show up during pregnancy is within the first two trimesters. Because eczema is brought on by environmental and internal triggers, it can be hard to predict and can show up at any time during pregnancy or just after giving birth. How long the condition persists also varies.

The majorities of women who have eczema during pregnancy have never had eczema before and get it before the third trimester. Rarely, eczema can show up for the very first time postpartum. This generally occurs in only about 10% of cases.

Eczema Treatments During Pregnancy (and Beyond)

Eczema is managed through several different strategies during pregnancy. The focus, of course, is on making sure that none of the treatments are dangerous to the developing fetus or mother during the course of the pregnancy. Treatments are aimed at being strong enough to manage the condition while safe enough to protect the fetus from harm.

The following treatments are generally considered safe for women to use to manage eczema during pregnancy:

  • Emollients
  • Topical steroids (that go on the skin)
  • Ultraviolet B light (although women who are pregnant should take extra caution with sun exposure because they can experience skin sensitivity)

Other therapies are used on a case-by-case basis, depending on the severity of eczema, the doctor’s assessment, and your comfort level. These treatments might include oral steroids or stronger steroid creams for the skin, as well as antibiotics that can help clear up eczema in some cases.

Fortunately, eczema during pregnancy is not dangerous. It doesn’t pose any risk to the mother or baby, although it can be very itchy, uncomfortable, and unsightly. There are, however, numerous safe therapies available to ease symptoms.

How to Handle Eczema Postpartum

While eczema symptoms most often show up in early to mid-pregnancy, the condition can often stick around in the postpartum period. Consistent treatment may play a role in how quickly the condition resolves. For some women, occasional eczema flare-ups may become a new normal.

Postpartum treatment options are similar to those advised for pregnant women, particularly for breastfeeding mothers. There are some therapies specifically contraindicated for nursing mothers, due to the potential contamination to breastmilk.

Typically, a woman experiencing mild or moderate cases of eczema during the postpartum period can use the same treatments as recommended in early pregnancy.

Where Does Eczema Flare-Up?

Eczema can show up anywhere on the body but most often flares up on the extremities (particularly on the arms or hands), neck, and face. Although it’s very rare (it happens to less than 2% of breastfeeding mothers), eczema can develop on the areola or nipples.  It can occur as either a typical case of eczema (that seems to show up out of nowhere but may be the result of internal and external forces) or be triggered by a sensitivity to something the nursing baby has eaten that comes into contact with the mothers nipples and areola while breastfeeding.

In cases of eczema on the nipples or areola, it’s often recommended that the mother apply an emollient and topical steroid to the affected area in between feedings. The medicine and emollient need to be washed off thoroughly before the baby nurses again or the mother pumps to prevent contamination of the breast milk.

Eczema Triggers You Can Reduce

While some of the suspected causes of eczema are not under your control (such as malfunctions of your immune response), many environmental factors are suspected to be at play as well. These include typical allergy triggers, such as food allergies, dander, chemicals in body products or detergents, and down fillings in bedding and clothing—basically anything that might cause the skin to become reactive or overly dry. Stress (physical and emotional), lack of sleep, and dry air may also contribute to eczema outbreak frequency, severity, and longevity. Do what you can to limit exposure to any of these factors that may be triggering to you.

Look out for what may be triggering your eczema. Keep in mind that it might be something in your environment that hasn’t bothered you before, such as stress, lack of sleep, pet dander, wool, down blankets, food sensitivities, lotions, dry air, or your laundry detergent.

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