When you get a moment to tune into how your own body feels after giving birth, in addition to being tired and sore, you may realize that your skin feels itchy and dry. Postpartum itching can happen on the body, the vulva, or stitches either from a C-section or a vaginal birth. Itching (for which the medical term is pruritus) can be uncomfortable and annoying, especially when your sleep is already interrupted enough without waking up to scratch fruitlessly at your limbs. Here, Romper spoke with two OB/GYNs about what causes postpartum itching, and what you can do to ease the itch (beyond just moisturizing and drinking water).
What causes postpartum itchy skin?
If you’re crying at commercials and losing hair in the shower, then you already know your hormones are a bit haywire after giving birth. Postpartum itching is also largely the result of hormones, which can dry out skin causing it to itch. “The dramatic decline in estrogen and progesterone after giving birth can contribute to dry skin,” Dr. Hadley King, NYC-based board-certified dermatologist, told Romper in a previous article.
Postpartum itching all over the body can be exacerbated by other factors in addition to hormones; for example, if your baby is born in the cold winter months, you may have experienced dry itchy skin whether or not you just birthed a human; that combined with hormonal changes can be a recipe for intense itching. If this is the case, in addition to moisturizing, try adding a humidifier to your room (your baby’s skin will appreciate it too).
Is postpartum itching normal?
So much of those early postpartum days feel abnormal (oh ya know, usually you’re not watching random TV at 3 a.m. wearing clothes covered in milk your body made) so it can be easy to lose sight of what’s “normal.” Rest assured, postpartum itching is normal to a degree. If it’s not letting up or it seems to be getting worse, “see your doctor as there could be other conditions (such as intrahepatic cholestasis that is seen in 2% of pregnant women) that give general intense itchiness that needs your doctor's attention,” Dr. Gunvor Ekman Ordeberg OB/GYN, co-founder of DeoDoc Intimate Skincare tells Romper.
How long does postpartum itching last?
So, now the question that’s probably top of mind if you’re reading this: how long does postpartum itching last? Well, like so many things, it depends on your body and your situation. “Postpartum itching is individual for each person, therefore there isn't a definitive answer for how long it could last,” Dr. Ekman Ordeberg says, however in a few months your hormones should begin to level out, and so will your skin changes. “When periods return it's a sign that the hormones have returned to their pre-pregnancy levels and skin should also return to its pre-pregnancy state,” Dr. King told Romper.
Why does my vagina itch postpartum?
You expected certain changes to your vagina, but you may not have been prepared for the constant itch. It’s normal for the vulva to itch postpartum, but that doesn’t mean it’s not super annoying and distracting.
“Postpartum women may have vaginal itching primarily [for] two reasons: stitches from an episiotomy or vaginal dryness secondary to the hormonal fluctuations (decrease in estrogen) associated post-delivery,” Dr. Kecia Gaither MD, MPH, FACOG, double board-certified in OB/GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine, tells Romper.
Dr. Ekman Ordeberg adds that there are several factors that can contribute to postpartum vulvar itching. The irritation could be caused by suture material (basically your postpartum stitches itch), and dryness in the vagina caused be breastfeeding and hormonal changes can cause itching.
“Many of the conventional pads consists of plastics and synthetic fibers which can cause irritation and contact dermatitis and thus itching,” she adds. And, you also may be treating your vagina differently because of bleeding or discharge. “Postpartum bleeding and discharge is common for weeks. This might cause women to wash their vulva excessively which can dry out the skin and cause irritation, dryness and itching,” Dr. Ekman Ordeberg adds.
Is it normal for my C-section scar to itch?
The short answer is that yes, it’s normal for your c-section scar to itch, especially when the stitches are still in place, but also after. The scar itself does not have nerve-endings, but the surrounding skin is working hard to heal, which can cause itchiness (similar to when a scab itches as it heals).
“Cesarean section scar pruritus reflects wound healing,” Dr. Gaither says. However, if the itching is constant or is accompanied by pain, redness, or pus, Dr. Ekman Ordeberg says to contact your doctor. “There might be different causes for this, but infection must be ruled out by your doctor,” she says.
What helps postpartum itching?
Now the answers you’ve been waiting for: how to relieve postpartum itching. For itchy postpartum skin on the body, the answer is annoyingly simple. Moisturize. “Moisturizers need to contain three components: humectants, emollients, and occlusives. It's important to look for products that contain all three,” Dr. King told Romper. If itching really won’t let up with normal moisturizer, you could try hydrocortisone cream, but be sure to wipe it off before nursing if you’re using it on the breast.
Moisturizers that contain aloe, calendula, oatmeal, blue tansy, or evening primrose oil may be especially helpful at relieving itchiness.
How do I get my vagina to stop itching postpartum?
Some of the recommendations fo relief for an itchy vagina postpartum may surprise you. For example, you may actually want to ditch organic products for postpartum skin (with the important exception of organic cotton pads — those you want to keep). “Organic formulated cosmetic products are not safe enough for the sensitive intimate skin, because the formulations are usually not stable enough and can more easily fall apart and thus cause skin irritation,” Dr. Ekman Ordeberg says. “Many organic products contain essential oils or other allergens which are not safe for the intimate skin (and especially for itching and already irritated skin)."
Dr. Ekman Ordeberg recommends (in her own words) the following to relieve vaginal itching postpartum:
- Be careful of excessive washing and stay away from normal soaps and washes. If you do want to use an intimate wash, make sure it is fragrance free, does not contain any allergens (such as essential oils) and has a pH of 5 (the same as the vulva).
- We usually recommend using an “oil regime” as it gives a more gentle and moisturizing cleanse alternative for sensitive vulvar skin postpartum. As many patients have asked for our recommendation, we have actually developed two safe alternatives to use as part of an oil regime, our Cleansing Oil and Calming oil that both consist of only 100% plant based oils.
- Change to 100% cotton pads and make sure both the top sheet touching the skin and its core are made of 100% organic cotton.
- Stay away from “normal body moisturizers” as they are not developed for the vulva. And they are absolutely not formulated for a postpartum vulva that may have tears [or] stitches.
- Stay away from any essential oils.
- Try to sleep commando.
Postpartum itching is annoying and disruptive, especially with everything else you have going on (like figuring out how to keep yourself and a tiny human alive simultaneously). Rest assured that most of the time, postpartum itching is totally normal and a few easy tweaks can help you find relief.