23/10/2018 12:06 BST | Updated 23/10/2018 15:19 BST

'Call The Midwife' Star Helen George Posts Pregnancy Snap To Raise ICP Awareness

Severe itching can be a sign of the condition.

Helen George has posted a throwback photo of herself shortly before her daughter Wren was born to raise awareness of the pregnancy condition ICP.

The ‘Call The Midwife’ actress, 34, gave birth to Wren – her daughter with co-star Jack Ashton – three weeks early in October 2017. In the days before the photo was taken, she experienced severe itchiness all over her body – even in her ears and eyes.

“I had scratched myself so much that my shellac nail varnish had chipped and I was black and blue from bruising,” she wrote.

The itchiness George experienced can be a sign of ICP, or intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy, a liver condition that affects 1 in 140 pregnant women in the UK.

ICP,  also known as obstetric cholestasis (or OC), is thought to be caused by higher levels of certain chemicals in the blood, such as hormones, and can be serious, but only in some cases.

“I knew that ICP ran in my family, I knew I had a 50/50 chance of having it during my pregnancy” wrote George who immediately called ICP Support, a small charity set up to support and educate women who think they may have the condition or want to know more about it. 

“Jenny Chambers [the charity’s founder] talked me through exactly what I should do, ‘go to the hospital now and get your bloods checked’,” George wrote.

“I tried to brush her off, we had a roast chicken in the oven which I really wanted to eat first. But I went, she was right, and within 24 hours Wren was delivered.

“It wasn’t my ‘perfect birth’. My nail varnish was chipped in all of the photos, my overnight bag was lacking in everything I needed, but Wren was safe, three weeks early. Without Jenny’s help our story may have been different.”

The actress is now hosting an afternoon tea to raise money for the small ICP charity.

How do I know if I have ICP during pregnancy?  

Symptoms of ICP typically start from around 30 weeks of pregnancy, the NHS states, although it is possible to develop it as early as eight weeks.

The main symptom is itching without a rash. This itching is usually more noticeable on the hands and feet, but can be all over the body. “The itching can be unbearable and worse at night,” the NHS states. “But it can also be mild.”

Aside from itching, other symptoms can include dark urine, pale poo and yellowing of the skin (although this is less common). As your bump grows and the skin of the tummy is stretched, this also may feel itchy. 

Women are advised to call their midwife or GP if they experience these symptoms anywhere on the body. “Feeling itchy like this can be a sign of ICP, and needs to be checked,” the NHS advises.

Serious cases of ICP have previously been linked with stillbirth. Although rare, if your condition is serious, specialists may advise you to be induced earlier.

The earlier you detect ICP the better, as with active management (treatment, ongoing tests and monitoring), the risks are lessened. Women will be given creams and medication to help with the itching and they will also have regular liver function tests so a doctor can monitor the condition.

The charity ICP Support provides information about ICP. You can also watch their video about ICP (OC) featuring mums and clinical experts.