Passionate About Genesee County
and the Moms Who Live Here

PUPPP: The Pregnancy Ailment Your Doctor May Not Recognize

PUPPP. What. In the world. Is pruritic uticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy?

I didn’t know either. I thought I was having a life-threatening (not really, but it felt awful!) allergic reaction to something. Or had gestational measles (which I just made up). Or my alien lifeform baby was trying to erupt from my midsection by the quickest route possible… my belly.

Whatever it was, it was horrible, and my doctor couldn’t help me. He had never heard of anything like polymorphic eruptions of pregnancy (dear heavens!!), or any other crazy-technical name containing far too many P’s. I had to do some online detective work to self-diagnose, which I know is often a big no-no.

But let’s start at the beginning…

I had what may be described as a dream pregnancy, my first time around. With the exception of being violently ill on a Pictured Rocks ferry tour and having intense general motion sickness in anything moving above walking speed, as well as a fun round of kidney stones, it was smooth sailing. (Ha! See what I did there?) I was working full-time, sprinting up and down stairs passing meds at an assisted living home, so I was in prime physical condition. I looked like I had swallowed a basketball. I had the glow. I was overjoyed to be feeling those kicks and those hiccups for the first time.

But then, just a few days before my due date, my stretch marks (yes, I wear them to this day!) started to itch.

Like, really itch.

Now, when your belly has stretched out to inhuman proportions in such a short time, itching is not outside the realm of normalcy. When you’re pregnant, you kind of get used to itching.

AKA Polymorphic Eruptions of Pregnancy (PEP)

Long story short, the itching didn’t go away. But I had other things on my mind, like birthing a baby for the first time. Itching kind of took a back seat to all the other fun physical things I was going through.

Cut to me getting home from the hospital with a sweet little pink newborn. Praise the Lord, my mom and my sister came into town to help me out. But the itching was gaining more of my attention, because it was getting worse.

And it was spreading. {Note that this image is not me, but closely resembles what I went through!}

At this point I was trying to self-diagnose, and I was convinced I was having an adverse reaction to something. I hadn’t received any drugs during labor. I (erroneously) narrowed it down to the Dermoplast pain-relieving spray. I even told my doctor I thought that was the culprit.

Then, Google Happened.

I don’t even remember how I found it. In the back of my mind I felt that the Dermoplast wasn’t at fault. (And heavens, I couldn’t do without it!!) So I kept surfing the ‘net, trying to find out what was causing this horrific itching.

Girls, it was like chicken pox. It spread from my abdomen to my feet to my legs to my arms. It was awful, and the itching was unlike anything I could remember. Nothing helped. Hydrocortisone was good, but it’s a steroid. Putting copious amounts of a steroid into my system when I was nursing a days-old newborn just didn’t seem like a good idea.

Lotion alone didn’t work. I was in agony.

I feel like it was a BabyCenter message board. This strange acronym kept popping up: PUPPP, or pruritic uticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy. (Gesundheit!) It sounded overly medical and sciency, but the description sounded right.

When I next discussed it with my doctor, he had never heard of it. Thank you, Internet!!

Now, in general I am not a fan of self-diagnosis. Googling your symptoms can all too easily convince you you have leprosy or cancer or you are already dead. But in my case, on this occasion, the internet came to the rescue. I now knew I didn’t have a strange auto-immune disease or measles or something deadly.

Here’s the strange part.

Apparently, 99% (a number I made up) of cases of PUPPP occur in a mom’s first pregnancy. It’s almost always your first. And, luckily, only your first. Those pruritic uticarial nasties didn’t come back with either of my subsequent pregnancies.

But the strangest part is, according to almost everything I read, the vast majority (which I won’t put a solid number on) of women who suffer from PUPPP are carrying boys. Since I didn’t find out what I was having until she entered the world, this might easily have steered me wrong, if I had done my research before delivery.

(Cases of PUPPP also seem to occur more often in pregnancies involving multiples. Another oddment of my case.)

So gee, thanks, pregnancy. I would much rather have won the lottery or something, instead of being that one in 150 moms who suffers from this super fun (but benign) ailment. Especially not knowing what it is.

The good news is, it goes away. On its own. The downside: you have to just suffer through it.


More bad news: hot showers make it itch more. (I love me some scalding hot showers.) And like I mentioned before, steroids are helpful but potentially harmful to wee small dependents.

I saw a hilarious picture on Google of a woman who had covered her belly with banana peels. I know this is good for mosquito bites, so while it’s not glamorous, it probably works. Cold washcloths might help. (Cold is better for the itching than hot.)

What I found that worked best was Sarna Anti-Itch Lotion, which was recommended to me by my cousin, who works for a dermatologist. Thank heavens for this stuff. I used exactly two-and-a-half boatloads of it. (Give or take a few gallons.)

I’m not a medical professional. I’m not here to diagnose or treat or cure anything. Just hoping to help a mom out, in case someone is reading who is suffering from PUPPP and needs to know she’s not alone. Because geez-oh-petes, nobody needs to do this and not know what’s happening to them. Especially when you’re hormonal and scared and already having all sorts of fun new physical things happening.

Were you plagued (haha!) with pruritic uticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy? Did you experience polymorphic eruptions? Yikes. Share your experiences below!

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