What Is Cholestasis of Pregnancy?

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When I was pregnant with my first, I swore I had every pregnancy symptom under the sun! I was constantly bringing up my weird symptoms with the doctor I was seeing and he would continuously brush it aside and tell me it was all normal. It always bothered me, and I go into that a little more in another post I wrote about my first trimester blues

I know I was a paranoid first time mom but I would’ve really liked just a little validation. After a while I started feeling dumb bringing up anything and so when he’d ask if I had any questions, I’d reply no and I was in and out of my appointment faster than it took me to ride the elevator up there. The itching was unbearable and everyone told me it was normal. I had no idea just how dangerous this one little symptom could be for my baby.

However, there was one symptom that started in my second trimester and seemed to be getting a lot worse. It was itchiness. I was itching like crazy all over my body! Every time I’d get home from work, I would take off most of my clothes and just scratch and scratch everywhere. It was so intense and my scratching never seemed to offer any relief.

I brought it up with a few friends and family members and they all told me it was totally normal to be itchy during pregnancy because your skin is stretching. So I tried to ignore my paranoid feelings and went on a little longer feeling miserable and not understanding why pregnancy had to just suck so bad. 

One night it was so bad I couldn’t sleep and I was driving my husband crazy because I was shaking the bed so much from all my itching. So I moved to another room and I did some research.Cholestasis of pregnancy

In my research, I came across the terms: obstetric cholestasisandintrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy” which is basically a liver disorder where the bile, which is a digestive fluid, slows way down and begins to build up in your liver instead of flowing into your gallbladder as it should.  

There are a lot of possible causes (hormone changes, genetics, problems with liver, etc. . .) but one of the biggest symptoms is persistent and severe itching. Aha! Even though it was a pretty rare condition, only 1 out of every 1,000 pregnant women experience it, I felt pretty sure that I had it. I read on that even though it’s rare, its a very serious and dangerous condition  for your baby and you should bring it up with your doctor immediately if experiencing the symptoms.

So thankfully, at my next appointment, I met with one of the other doctors at the office. He seemed very friendly and so I mentioned how bad my itching was and that I was concerned. He had a look of concern himself and told me I needed to get a blood lab done to check on my BILE ACIDS to see if they were elevated and if I had Cholestasis.

Within 48 hours I had my results back and it turned out I did indeed have Cholestasis. I then met with another doctor who sat me down and explained some of the risks associated with Cholestasis (pre-term labor and still birth to name a few). He said that if we carefully monitor it (kick counts, bi-weekly blood labs, twice a week non-stress tests and ultrasounds) and deliver no later than 37 weeks (the risk of still birth increases greatly after 37 weeks) then I should have a perfectly healthy and normal baby. IMG_0536

Imagine my surprise! Here I had thought and was told over and over again that my itching was normal and nothing to be worried about! The next few weeks were a whirlwind of emotions for me. I didn’t fully understand everything and I felt terrible that my baby had to be induced early. Even though I tried to push for a later date (again, I didn’t fully understand the risks) I was induced right at 37 weeks and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy who was perfectly happy and healthy. I know some women aren’t as fortunate and my heart aches for them. No one should ever have to deal with the loss of a child. 

There is just too much at stake to allow yourself to brush this aside as a “normal” pregnancy symptom. Granted, itching can be normal in pregnancy and most women do experience it, but if your itching is persistent and intense (specifically on your hands and feet) you should absolutely bring it up with your doctor. Because it’s rare, there are some doctors out there who aren’t as informed about it and may also call it normal.  If this is the case for you and your doctor, trust your gut, and be the advocate your baby needs. Bring in your research and request to have your bile acids checked. 

If you have been diagnosed with Cholestasis, I have found so much helpful information, support, and love from this Facebook group I recently joined. I would definitely join and ask any questions you may have. The ladies there are so loving and supportive and I’ve learned so much that I wish I had known with my first pregnancy.

If you don’t know where to start on your research, I have also found a lot of helpful information on the ICP care website.  On this website you’ll find things like an ICP Infographic PDF (with links to medical articles), Frequently asked questions Educational ICP Brochures and a super  helpful doctor discussion guide.

I’m now pregnant with my second and though I haven’t been tested for Cholestasis yet (if you’ve had it once your chances of having it again in subsequent pregnancies are 60-90%) I feel so much more informed and feel like I can truly be a better advocate for my baby.

As a sidenote, If you’re a paranoid mom like I am and looking for a baby monitor that will truly offer you peace of mind, I would 100% recommend the Owlet Monitor. When I first heard of the Owlet, my first thought was, “Another baby product no one needs.” Until my friend had a really scary experience with her baby and was alerted by her Owlet–now it’s my number 1 recommendation for new moms. It’s a baby heart rate monitor that monitors your baby’s heart rate and oxygen while they sleep and alerts you if your baby has abnormal levels. If you’re thinking of getting a baby monitor, I highly advise you get this instead (or get both). But if you can only get one, get the owlet. A baby monitor won’t do you any good if you are fast asleep, but an Owlet will alert you if baby stops breathing. Read more about the device here: Owlet infant heart rate monitor