Fiona Hooker first noticed itchy red areas on her stomach when she was 31 weeks pregnant with her son.
The 32-year-old explains that these unusual marks felt like ‘nettle stings’ at first – but then proceeded to get progressively worse.
For the remainder of her pregnancy Fiona suffered with ‘unbearable red itchy plaques’ – which turned into painful blisters once she had given birth.
Doctors diagnosed Fiona with a rare autoimmune pregnancy condition known as Pemphigoid Gestationis – and said a reaction to a gene in her son’s DNA probably caused her immune system to attack her own skin.
The hypnobirthing teacher, from Basingstoke, said: ‘I got a few tiny, really itchy marks around my belly button that felt like nettle stings.
‘I went to the doctors after a few days because it was getting more and more itchy and unbearable.
‘They gave me some steroid creams which didn’t really touch it and it was getting bigger – my belly was covered in red, itchy plaques.
‘It was the third GP I went to see that said it looked like the condition Pemphigoid Gestationis and he referred me to a dermatologist who gave me the strongest steroid cream you can get.
‘It was like I was allergic to my own baby.’
However, Fiona didn’t suffer from the condition in her first pregnancy with three-year-old daughter Phoebe.
She adds: ‘The doctors think it might be to do with the baby – something in the father’s DNA triggers the placenta to start attacking a protein which is also in the skin – so my body was attacking my skin.
‘My son must have a gene from his dad that my daughter got from me instead, because I didn’t have it with my first pregnancy.’
But the problems continued after her son was born.
After giving birth to Barney, on June 13 2021, Fiona’s skin erupted into blisters that covered her stomach, thighs, arms and chest – which made holding her newborn very painful.
Fiona continues: ‘After I’d given birth it just exploded and turned into blisters.
‘If I scratched it, it felt good and temporarily took the itch away but obviously I was removing the blisters and skin so then I was left with raw, really painful skin and the blisters just came back on top of that.
‘It hurt a lot to even hold my son so I wasn’t really able to enjoy the newborn stage because of it.’
After six months of oral steroids following the birth, Fiona finally came off them just before Christmas.
Now the mum-of-two is sharing photos of her stomach to raise awareness of the condition – which affects one in 50,000 women.
However, knowing sufferers of the condition are likely to develop it again in future pregnancies, the hypnobirthing teaching and her husband Warren Hooker, 35, have decided to not have any more children.
She adds: ‘Because I’m quite recently off the steroids, every now and again I get a bit itchy and have to use a bit of steroid cream, so I think my body is still getting over it.
‘A lot of people have to have immunosuppressive therapies to get off the steroids and get the condition under control so I’m quite lucky.
‘Once it’s triggered it’s made worse by certain hormones – oestrogen mainly – so each menstrual cycle I may get a little flare but not enough to need any steroids.
‘So I may have some symptoms of it forever but not as bad as before.
‘It’s put me off being pregnant again – especially because the research says it will come on earlier and worse and I don’t think I could do that again even with steroids.’
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