Natural Ways to Combat Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy

This informational post will likely only be valuable for a small number of readers; however, if even one mom who is dealing with ICP comes across it and finds if helpful, then I’ll consider it a mission accomplished.

ICP (intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy) is a rare-ish pregnancy condition that affects about 1 – 2% of pregnant women. It’s considered high-risk and is likely to occur in subsequent pregnancies. Thought to be caused by hormones, ICP impairs a mom’s liver function and can pose potential (serious) risks for baby.

If you’re an ICP mom, I don’t need to inform you on the miserable itching, nausea, and rib pain that this condition causes. If you’re pregnant, itching, and are looking for answers, I hope this post will be of some help for you. To learn more about the basics of ICP, what it is, and how it is medically managed, visit icpcare.org. It’s a wonderful site with loads of helpful information.

As a pregnant mom (with our third) who developed ICP with my first two pregnancies, I know it’s likely I’ll get it again. This time around, however, I am determined to take preventative measures and give my liver the best chance possible to function normally. I’d like to share natural ways to prevent intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy and what I’m doing differently this time around.

First off, I need to give some brief background information and a simple disclaimer. I was never officially diagnosed with ICP my first pregnancy (although I know I had it) and wasn’t diagnosed until 38 weeks 3 days during my second pregnancy. I did develop itching both pregnancies, as well as right upper quadrant pain and nausea. This pregnancy, at 29 weeks along, I am not (yet) itching, and am keeping the liver pain at bay. And while I cannot in any way guarantee that I’ll make it to delivery day itch-free, I can share with you the natural ways to fight ICP and how to keep your liver as healthy as possible. Please know that this is not professional advice, but a personal account of what has been working for me.

ICP graphic

Let’s start with diet. As a part of our digestive system, what we eat greatly affects the well-being of our liver. It’s the liver’s job to filter out the bad stuff from our system, but when your liver is already struggling to do that (or has the potential to struggle), putting lots of crap in our systems can just make the whole situation worse. So: here is a basic list of foods to avoid while pregnant with ICP.

Foods to avoid with an ICP pregnancy:

  • fried foods
  • excessive butter
  • some dairy (high fat milk, cream, and cheeses)
  • white/bleached flour
  • processed sugars
  • foods with lots of preservatives
  • nitrates
  • alcohol (which should be eliminated during pregnancy anyway)

Here are some more specific examples of foods to avoid: chips, packaged cookies and treats, pizza (because of the dough and cheese), french fries, dry-cured meats and lunch meat, mayonnaise, donuts, whipping cream, whole milk, crackers.

Do your best to avoid or limit these foods. You’ll keep your liver running smoother, will have more energy, and may even lessen some morning sickness! I found that I’d start to get nauseous and would have mild RUQ (right upper quadrant) pain whenever I’d indulge in these types of foods. On the flip side, I would feel much better when I ate healthily. Next, I’ll list foods to consume to keep ICP at bay.

Foods to eat with an ICP pregnancy:

  • leafy greens and vegetables
  • berries
  • oranges, grapefruit, lemons
  • almonds
  • olive oil
  • avocados
  • fish (salmon is my favorite)
  • lean meat (chicken and other poultry is good)
  • hummus (chick peas)
  • eggs
  • coffee (Amen to that!)
  • honey (real maple syrup is ok too)
  • whole, unprocessed grains (think oatmeal and good quality whole wheat)

There are probably more foods that I’ve not listed, but these items are a good start. Here are more specific meal ideas.

For breakfast, try eating eggs, a cup of coffee, an avocado on whole grain toast, oatmeal with honey, and fresh fruit. I have a great recipe for baked oatmeal in which you can use honey and low-fat milk. It’s easy to whip up and makes a big batch. For lunch, try hummus and veggies, salads (top with olive oil and salt), chicken breast, more eggs, or oatmeal. Snack on almonds, fruits, and veggies. For suppers, try fish or chicken dishes, more veggies, whole grains, and legumes.

These are all great options that support healthy liver function and will keep you feeling healthy. That being said, there have been many times when I’ve indulged in chocolate or yogurt or pancakes or cookies. I just try to limit those things as best as I can and stick to my liver-friendly diet.

Next up: supplements.

Natural supplements for cholestasis of pregnancy:

The two most important supplements you can try are dandelion root and milk thistle. Both of these natural supplements support healthy liver function and can give your digestive system a boost. In order to get a daily dose of dandelion root, I drink one cup of roasted dandelion root tea every day. You can order this kind of tea online (I use the Traditional Medicinal brand and have found the best deal from Swanson vitamins). I also take 350mg of milk thistle each day, in capsule form. I just bought some of these supplements from Walmart (so, nothing fancy here).

I believe that taking these supplements has, in the long run, greatly benefited my liver. I think it takes a while (a couple months even) for the supplements to really start making a difference, but it is so, so worth it. For example, my RUQ pain has lessened in frequency and severity ever since starting the supplements, and I’ve also found that I can indulge in sweets and treats once in a while without regretting it later. I firmly believe that these two supplements are giving my liver the boost it needs.

Thirdly, try a natural liver detox.

My favorite way to detoxify the liver is to drink lemon water. It’s easy and beneficial. Just buy some lemons, squirt some fresh juice into your water glass, and drink it down. I drink lemon water about 2-4 times each week, so it’s OK to do this detox frequently. In fact, I do it so often that I bought a big bag of lemons, cut them in half, and squirted the juice into some ice cube trays. I froze the juice and emptied the little lemon cubes into plastic bags. That way, anytime I want some lemon water, all I have to do is a plop a cube into my water bottle. Easy-peasy.  Drinking lemon water can help lessen nausea and RUQ pain and just help you feel better.

And finally, keep up with exercise.

Exercise gets your blood moving and can help your body in the waste-elimination process. And, it just feels good. You’ll have more energy and probably get a mood-booster, too. Going for a long walk always lifts my spirits. Exercise during pregnancy doesn’t have to be hard-core or strenuous. Here are some ideas for simple yet effective exercises during pregnancy:

  • go on a walk
  • do a low-impact right-in-your-living room work out (think Leslie Sansone – she’s on Youtube)
  • stretch
  • pregnancy yoga poses (you’ll easily find them on Pinterest)
  • climb stairs (but rest if you get short of breath)

These are all great options that don’t require a gym or any equipment, so you can do them right at home or outside. The important thing is just to keep at it. Try and get in some form of exercise each day.

How to fight ICP at home:

These are the four things I am doing to fight ICP naturally: eat a liver-friendly diet, take supplements, do a liver detox, and get exercise. You can try these things at home. There is no guarantee it’ll work for me – or you – but it’s definitely worth a try. The longer we can keep our livers healthy during pregnancy, the better.

After I deliver my baby, I will write a follow-up post with information on how well these natural efforts worked, if I did or did not develop ICP, when I delivered baby, and the health outcome of both baby and me.

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