Itching meant I was killing my baby

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  • Living with obstetric cholestasis

    My pregnancy had been relatively easy up to 33 weeks but one day at work, I noticed my arms were itching. I looked in a few books but they all seemed to suggest this was just a normal side effect of pregnancy.

    It didn’t go away, though. In fact it got worse. The itching was on my hands, feet, arms and legs – even my palms. It got so bad that I was getting up in the middle of the night to scratch the soles of my feet with a hairbrush.

    I mentioned it to my GP, along with something else I’d noticed – my urine seemed to be darker than normal. But she didn’t seem worried by it.

    Then one day I was reading a pregnancy handbook when I spotted something called obstetric cholestasis (OC), which mentioned itching that sounded just like mine. I looked it up on the internet and found out it was a liver condition where the bile salt level in your blood is too high. The other symptoms of it were darker urine and, sometimes, jaundice.

    My consultant agreed it might be OC and ran some tests. At that point, though, I wasn’t worried because no one had mentioned that OC could be potentially dangerous.

    James was born with no problems, but a few days later, my tests results came back confirming I did have OC. That’s when I looked into it further and found out James, who is now 8 years old, could easily have died.

    If OC is left untreated, and the bile salt levels remain high, your baby is at increased risk of several problems – the worst one being stillbirth.

    Even experts don’t really know what causes this, except that the high bile salt levels are toxic and might affect the placenta or the baby’s heart.

    When I got pregnant a second time, I made sure I was given liver function tests as soon as the itching started again. I also took a drug called ursodeoxycholic acid to help control my bile salt levels and was induced at 37 weeks to cut the risk of danger. Alexander, who’s now four, was born healthy too.

    I’d urge any pregnant women whose legs, arms, hands and feet are itchy to demand that their doctor runs liver function tests. OC is dangerous, but it can be controlled if you’re diagnosed early enough.

    Judith Hibbert, 46, is a mum of two from North London

    – Read more in-depth information and expert advice about pregnancy and birth on goodtoknow

    For more information, visit, or the
    British Liver Trust’s website

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