Sunday, September 16, 2012

Postpartum Itch

At about 5 weeks postpartum I developed an itch. It took nearly two months to get to the bottom of it, during which time I read many complains on online forums of similar problems experienced by new moms. Though everyone's itch may well be unique, I thought I would share my story in case it provides a clue for some other itchy sufferer out there.

My itch started in a small spot on my right hip and I thought it was a flea bite. But it quickly spread all over my legs, arms, feet, and to some extent, the torso (front, not back). There was no rash, but an itch so maddening that even though I've had eczema since I was a baby and have had to deal with something itching on a daily basis all my life, I could not help but scratch. I scratched till I bled. I scratched till I bruised. I looked like something out of a zombie film. Night time was the worst - Offspring was still waking every 2 hours to feed and what little sleep I got was interrupted by the itching. Laying for more than 15 min on one side caused the skin there to itch more. Once an hour I would get up, wipe myself down with cold water and stand in front of a fan cooling off the skin. Later I discovered witch hazel and would climb into the tub and cover myself head to toe with it. Sometimes I would put ethanol on the raw scratched bits because pain, it turns out, is preferable to itch (pain is also inhibitory of itch, so says Wikipedia).

I thought that the itch might have something to do with the pregnancy. A quick google search showed that there were other mothers out there who developed an itch at about the same time. Though itching is common in women who had epidurals, the only thing I was administered during birth was pitocin for the last 15 minutes of pushing. Still, I thought that the rapidly changing hormones may have been the culprit. So first I went to see my ObGyn. Well, actually, I ended up seeing the nurse practitioner, who told me that she too had a bad itch with each one of her children, which lasted about half a year, that she did not know what caused it and that I should just suck it up. So onto the dermatologist I went, who pronounced it eczema, gave me a prescription for a giant bottle of Elocon lotion (a steroid topical cream that I sometimes use for eczema anyway). I had to be careful about when I would apply the lotion, since I didn't want to get steroid cream on my baby. But even with my careful applications weeks went by without any improvement. By this point I was using a dried up loofah to scratch myself, as it was a bit gentler on the skin that my nails. I was going delirious with sleep deprivation and itch and was accompanied everywhere by the fumes of colloidal oatmeal and witch hazel.

I consulted with my friend's mom who is a naturapathic doctor. She thought that it might be a buildup of toxins or biles, due to a faulty liver or the gall bladder, I don't recall now. Without examining me she had to go by my description and I really appreciate her taking the time, but after a cleansing diet of milk of magnesia and some rather pricy homeopathic pills (yes, I was THAT desperate) I was no closer to the cure. Well into the second month of my torment I went to see my GP (actually, the nurse practitioner in the office). I just sat there crying for a while and then asked if there is anything at all she could do - perhaps a blood test? She had seen me a few weeks earlier (we tried unsuccessfully a Clarinex treatment) and agreed to do a full blood panel. The only thing that was off on the test results was an elevated eosinophil count, common in allergic reactions, some infections and pointing once again to eczema. NP prescribed Singulair, a leukotriene receptor antagonists, which Husband had been taking all along for his seasonal allergies. Within HOURS the itch was gone. Seriously.

I took the Singulair for a couple of weeks. We also started cosleeping with Offspring, which meant that I could get basically a full night's rest. And the itch went away for good. When I saw the NP for a something else a few months later she told me that she had another mother come in with a crazy itch at 5 weeks postpartum and she too benefited greatly from Singulair. So even though n=2 in our little experience here, I figure there is no harm in spreading the word about a possible pp-itch solution.

PS: if you are wondering why I include pictures of elephants, it's because they always seem so itchy to me.

UPDATE 9-29-14: Since the writing of this post I have had a second baby and since this post appears to have been helpful for some folks out there I thought I would include an update on post partum itch after baby 2.0 (who is over a year old now! Gosh, time flies...) The good news is that I did not get the itch after my second pregnancy/birth. I was prepared for it but it did not materialize. There were few differences between my pregnancies, if anything I was more tired and uncomfortable during my second. The kids birthdays are just days apart so I don't think the time of year (temperature, humidity etc) played a role. The second birth was far shorter (5 hours vs 21) and I had to take an antibiotic during labor the second time.

There were, however, two differences in the post partum period that I believe made the real difference:

1) I got more sleep than I did with baby #1 because we chose to cosleep with baby 2.0 from the start, which I already felt comfortable with and knew worked well for us. So I was more rested.

2) I was far less worried about messing everything up, harming the baby in some fashion, and just less anxious in general as my confidence in my parenting skills had improved. So I was more relaxed.

I think these two factors likely resulted in me NOT developing the eczema/itch that I did with baby #1. As always, I hope this helps someone out there who is itching! May you find relief.