What to Know About Eczema During Pregnancy

Medically Reviewed By Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI

When you are pregnant, changes in your body can affect your skin. Pregnancy can trigger eczema, often called atopic dermatitis, if you have never had it before. It can also worsen or improve existing eczema. Generally, eczema that develops during pregnancy causes the same symptoms as eczema in the general population. However, pregnant people may be unable to use some of the treatments available to people who are not pregnant.

It is essential to manage eczema during pregnancy to protect the birthing parent’s and the unborn baby’s health.

This article explains what to know about eczema during pregnancy, including how to treat it safely.

What causes eczema during pregnancy?

A pregnant woman looking at the skin on her stomach in the mirror
Atolas/Stocksy United

While the exact cause of eczema during pregnancy is unknown Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , it may be due to changes in hormone levels.

A 2022 research review suggested that the changes in levels of estrogen and progesterone, hormones that play an important role in pregnancy, may affect the skin barrier and make the body more likely to have allergic reactions. Along with various other factors, allergies can increase the risk of eczema.

Learn more about how pregnancy affects your skin, hair, and nails.

Other potential triggers of eczema include:

  • stress
  • the weather
  • skin care products containing fragrances or dyes
  • cleaning products or detergents containing harsh chemicals

Learn more about common eczema triggers.

What are the symptoms of eczema during pregnancy?

Eczema during pregnancy typically causes the same symptoms as when you are not pregnant. These may include:

  • dry skin
  • itchiness
  • rashes, which may look red on lighter skin tones or darker than the surrounding skin on darker skin tones
  • leathery or scaly patches on the skin
  • crusty or oozing skin areas
  • inflammation

Learn more about what eczema looks and feels like on skin of color.

The lesions associated with eczema often appear in areas with skin folds, such as the creases inside the elbows and behind the knees. However, they can also affect the hands, feet, and nipples. Additionally, eczema may either worsen or improve during pregnancy.

Learn more about what different types of eczema can look like.

How do doctors diagnose eczema during pregnancy?

A dermatologist can usually diagnose eczema Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source by examining your skin and asking about your symptoms and medical history. In some cases, they may perform a biopsy. This involves taking a small skin sample and having a healthcare professional examine it to confirm a diagnosis and help develop a treatment plan.

They may also order allergy testing to rule out other conditions or determine potential triggers.

What are the treatments for eczema during pregnancy?

Pregnant people may be unable to use some treatments available to the general population.

Moisturizers and mild topical steroids can be safe and beneficial in reducing eczema symptoms for pregnant people. Your doctor may only prescribe stronger steroids in severe cases. Topical calcineurin inhibitors, which alter immune system activity to reduce inflammation, may also be helpful.

Certain types of phototherapy, such as broad- or narrow-band UVB, may be effective treatments.

Some eczema treatments, such as systemic medications like baricitinib (Olumiant) or upadacitinib (Rinvoq), may cause harm to an unborn baby. It is also important to avoid methotrexate (Jylamvo).

Let your doctor know if you take one of these medications and are considering pregnancy. You will need to stop taking the medication before becoming pregnant.

Though a 2022 case report Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggested that dupilumab (Dupixent) may be safe for use during pregnancy, experts need to perform more research before drawing conclusions.

Learn more about eczema home remedies and medical treatments.

What is the outlook for pregnant people with eczema?

Treating eczema during pregnancy is important for the birthing parent’s and the unborn baby’s health. The risk of infections can increase without treatment. Some infections include staphylococcal infections or eczema herpeticum, which may negatively affect the unborn baby’s health.

Following your doctor’s treatment plan is a great way to prevent complications and ensure your and your baby’s health.

Learn 5 eczema symptoms to never ignore.

Does having eczema during pregnancy mean your baby will develop eczema?

Though eczema can run in families, more research is necessary to determine whether developing eczema during pregnancy influences the baby’s chances of having the condition.

Can you prevent eczema during pregnancy?

It may not be possible to prevent eczema during pregnancy. However, there are certain steps you can take to prevent or manage flare-ups, including:

  • identifying and avoiding triggers, such as certain soaps, fragrances, foods, or environmental factors
  • keeping your skin well-moisturized
  • following your doctor’s treatment plan
  • avoiding long, hot showers or baths, which can dry your skin
  • managing stress, as it can also contribute to an eczema flare-up

Learn 6 tips for avoiding an eczema flare-up.

Summary

When hormone levels change during pregnancy, it can affect the skin. For some people, eczema may develop for the first time or worsen. For others, it may improve.

There are safe treatments for eczema that may not harm the unborn baby. Talk with your doctor or obstetrician before you treat your eczema, but experts consider topical steroids and some types of phototherapy safe. Doctors do not recommend certain immunosuppressants for people who are pregnant.

You can help manage eczema flares during pregnancy by keeping your skin well-moisturized and avoiding any known triggers, such as allergens or irritating chemicals.

Talk with your doctor about ways to manage eczema during pregnancy.

Was this helpful?
0
  1. Akhtar, N. H., et al. (2022). The use of dupilumab in severe atopic dermatitis during pregnancy: A case report. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8815205/
  2. Balakirski, G., et al. (2022). Atopic dermatitis and pregnancy. https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(22)00078-1/fulltext
  3. Kurien, G., et al. (2023). Dermatoses of pregnancy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430864/
  4. Nemeth, V., et al. (2022). Eczema. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538209/
  5. Oakley, A., et al. (2021). Skin changes in pregnancy. https://dermnetnz.org/topics/skin-changes-in-pregnancy
  6. Overview: Atopic eczema. (2019). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/atopic-eczema/

Medical Reviewer: Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Last Review Date: 2023 May 25
View All Eczema Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.