Sunday, September 16, 2012

Postpartum Itch

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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.
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19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say thank you for posting this. I've been going through a similar experience but it started at 8 weeks postpardem. Still dealing with it. It's taking over my life- il trying to not obsess about it.
Reading your story has given me comfort. Thank you.

Paulina said...

I'm glad I can be of some use. I hope you can find a solution to the itch soon! It is no fun at all.

Celia Delgadoflores said...

Omg thanks for sharing. I'm going to buy it asap because my legs itch from my knees down n my arms from my elbow to my hand. Its horrible. I hope Singular works for me.

Val said...

I have been dealing with this EXACT SAME itch for 6 months. Started 6 weeks postpartum. I have seen multiple doctors and spent hundreds in lotions and prescriptions. All the while these doctors look at me like I am nuts. One even prescribed me anti psychotic drugs. What a relief to see that others are in the same boat.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post. I have been experiencing postpartum itchiness all over, especially on my lower body and legs. It's been driving me crazy. Now I feel so much better knowing others have had the same experience.

Anonymous said...

I've had this for over six months. I went to a dermatologist and said it's common and can last more than a year. I was taking allergra-d for allergies that would work when I remembered to take them. She told me to take a stronger allergy medicine at night and use a lotion with menthol. They both work wonders but I can tell when they wear off. Just waiting for it to end!

Paulina said...

maybe try a different allergy med? I tried a couple and only singulair gave me the relief. Hope you feel better soon!

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for writing this, my wife delivered our second baby recently and she is going through similar experience. Though we have spoken with our doctor who has also recommended a blood test - it is encouraging to know that someone else went through similar experience and has been cured - before she turned crazy! :)

Paulina said...

I hope her itching stops soon!

Myri Dujovne said...

Someone just sent me this, I have the exact same thing! I've been really good at not scratching, so I don't think my doctors are taking me seriously when I say it's really bad!

I hadn't thought of asking for a blood test, I just sent an email to my dr to have one done first thing in the morning.

I have a few questions. How long did you take Singulair for? Were you breast feeding? I'm a little worried of taking anything because of breast feeding. Did you have any side effects?

Thanks!

Paulina said...

Myri, I'm so sorry you are itching as well! Here are some answers to your questions:
- I took Singulair in total for about a month. I first took it for a week and then stopped and the itch started to return. So I started it up again and another couple of weeks later stopped again and no itch! I was breastfeeding then as well. I checked with my lactation nurse who said that it will not pass into my breastmilk and affect the baby. I was a little worried about it drying up my supply but for me at least the supply was not affected. I did make sure to drink some extra water just in case. I do know that antihistamines can lower the milk supply for some people but you probably won't know how/if it affects your supply until you try.

~BB~ said...

I too have "the itch" and I have tried everything! I've had it for about eight weeks now and I feel like I'm about to lose my mind - at my wit's end. Baby is sleeping great, but I lay awake every night clawing my skin raw. I'm going to try the Singular - thanks for sharing!!

Paulina said...

Gosh, BB, I hope it helps! I feel your pain!

Unknown said...

Did your itch have a physical manifestation? Its been happening to me everywhere and they start like tiny little bites or zits that itch and as soon as i scratch it it kinda hurts like a sting...

Smashy Momo said...

Did your itch have a physical manifestation? Its been happening to me everywhere and they start like tiny little bites or zits that itch and as soon as i scratch it it kinda hurts like a sting...

Paulina said...

@Smashy Momo: Mine did start with a small red dot on the hip. There was definitely a kind of redness or pinkness to a lot of the itch but it didn't look much like a rash. When it spread to my feet it looked like little bubbles filled with clear liquid. I don't remember it stinging though....Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

Hi,
This was useful. I do have few questions. Please help me in this.
I have the same problem and I tried lot of other medicines for many months. However, the solution was temporary. The problem will start again in 2 or 3 days.
Will singular be a permanent solution? If So, how long should i continue with that? I also heard that there were few side effects like asthma because of singular. Is that true..?

Thanks in advance..

Anonymous said...

I just want to share that I also developed (with the exception of my face) the full body itchy rash about a week after giving birth and it stuck around for a full year. It tapered off in areas but stayed in the stretch marks on my tummy for an entire year. I saw multiple doctors and I even visited the hospital in regards to the postpartum rash to no avail...I was told it was puppps/peppp but that it was VERY odd to develope this rash postpartum. Anyways, I'm pregnant with baby number two now and I'm absolutely terrified it will rear it's ugly head again...thank you for sharing your story and my heart goes out to any and all mama's who wind up suffering through this as well xo

Paulina said...

@anon March 10th - I'm sorry to hear you are itching and not finding any relief. Since I'm not a doctor I can't really give out medical advice. I don't know if singulair will help you or if it will be a permanent solution. I can tell you that I took it for about a month and then stopped and did not have any reoccurring itchiness. Good luck!!!

@anon March 16th - I hope you do not get itchiness the second time around or that the doctors will find something that will help if it does re-occur! A full year sounds like a terribly long time to not get any relief. I was lucky that after I had my second child, I did not develop the same itching symptoms. I hope you have the same experience!!