I was pretty over being pregnant by the time the third trimester with my fourth baby rolled around. I had fallen victim to the usual ailments of swollen feet, restless nights, and morning sickness that stuck around all day. It was a very long gestational period waiting for my little guy to be born, as he went right up until his scheduled C-section appointment (which was a mere three days before his actual due date).
As if the last few weeks before his arrival were not uncomfortable enough, my body decided to throw me another curveball in the form of PUPPs, which is a cuddly and cute sounding acronym for a hideously itchy skin condition known as “Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy.” PUPPs (also seen as PUPPP) is no joke, with about 1 in 250 pregnant women contracting the rash.
The Rash Eruption
I came down with this itchy predicament during week 38 of pregnancy. It began as small pink and red raised dots around my belly button. I showed them to my doctor and she thought it could just be due to hormones and that leaving them alone was the best medicine. All of the other end of term pregnancy ailments were taking center stage by that point, so I pretty much dismissed the bumpy spots and went along with counting baby kicks and waiting impatiently for my water to break.
My bundle of joy came and my family was ecstatic. I loved all of the help and attention I got in the hospital and it was not until discharge day that I noticed my red speckles had become a full on blanket rash explosion that encompassed my entire distorted belly. The OBGYN on-call thought it was due to a reaction from the surgical tape used for my cesarean. She told me to try some over-the-counter ointment for relief and sent me home without even waving good-bye.
The rash continued to erupt and hydrocortisone cream did nothing to combat the itchy lava spreading to all my limbs.
I had a two-week, post c-section check-up, at which time my obstetrician dismissed the “allergic to surgical tape theory” that I received in the hospital and formally diagnosed me with PUPPs. The continued radiating spread of my stomach rash to all extremities and the fact that I never stopped scratching my arms, legs, and neck during the appointment made my OBGYN pretty quick to identify PUPPs as the reason for all of my discomfort. The initial small dots I saw in week 38 of pregnancy were also given a nod of acknowledgment, as most likely being the pre-cursor to this itchy menace.
The Constant Itching
There are so many anti-itch remedies out there, and I tried them all. My obstetrician ended up prescribing me an oral steroid which helped get rid of the initial flare-up on my tummy, though it did little to stop the tingling discomfort making camp all over my body.
I itched pretty much everywhere, except for the palms of my hands and on my face. The rash may have disappeared from my flabby stomach, but it reappeared on my chest and made stops on my shoulders, hands, feet, and ankles. Fortunately, the secondary flare-ups (that continued for weeks) were never as red and noticeable as the first infestation that exploded on my belly.
Finding remedies that worked was an impossible feat.
Online pregnant mommy message boards chatted a lot about how pine tar soap was the only thing that worked against PUPPs. I tried it to no avail. It did not alleviate my discomfort, but it did leave me smelling like a bonfire. My spouse thought the soap scent was “dirt-ish and campy”, while my toddler told me that showering with it made me smell stinky. I also tried oatmeal baths, cold compresses, sunshine, baggy clothing, and aloe, none of which made a difference.
My knuckles and feet itched the worst, especially at night. The only way I could stop the fire ant, burning sensation between my toes was to dunk both feet into cold water filled to the brim with ice cubes.
The Anomaly of PUPPs
I am an anomaly because I got PUPPs during my fourth pregnancy and did not go through any fertility treatments. My PUPPs symptoms were slight during my final weeks leading up to giving birth but came on strong postpartum. While much is still unknown about PUPPs, it’s thought that women in their first pregnancy, those who have undergone IVF, and those who are pregnant with multiples are at an increased risk. The good news is PUPPs always resolves eventually, but even that doesn’t have a firm timeline.
It has been nine weeks since I gave birth to my son. I am still itching, but the red bumps and speckled patches are growing smaller. I no longer need to dunk my feet in ice baths in order to make it through nightly baby feedings and the pine tar soap sits abandoned in the corner of my shower stall.
It has been an uncomfortable experience, but the misery is quickly erased whenever I hold my newborn in my arms. Enduring uncontrollable itching is worth the price for my little blessing. (But when he is old enough to talk and starts to complain about bug bites itching, I plan to just roll my eyes at him.)
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