Thirty-five weeks into her first pregnancy, Christina DePino was having trouble sleeping. She wasn't struggling with a constant need to pee or annoying aches and pains, but she was itching all over — and even though she had just moved to a place with a drier climate that could have been affecting her skin, the mom-to-be knew her symptoms didn't seem normal.
"The itching was so severe that I would wake up and I wouldn't be able to go back to bed, and my legs and arms were scabbed and bleeding from the uncontrollable need to scratch," DePino told CBS News. "It got to the point that I was no longer able to sleep at all."
In a moment of frustration, the 28-year-old took to Facebook to complain about her symptoms. She hoped that some of her Facebook friends might be able to provide some insight about what she was going through, and lucky for her, they did: A couple of friends commented on her post suggesting that she might have a rare but serious condition called intraheptic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP), so she reached out to her doctor and set up an appointment for testing.
According to Mayo Clinic, cholestasis is the term for any condition that impairs the flow of bile from the liver. So intraheptic cholestasis of pregnancy, specifically, occurs when that flow is impaired in late pregnancy. Aside from the main symptom of extreme itchiness, ICP doesn't have any real effects on the mother's health, but it can have devastating effects on the baby, including increased risk of premature birth and even death — which is why, as soon as DePino's doctor confirmed she had the condition, she scheduled an induced birth for her 37th week.
Thankfully, DePino gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Lexa Rae, on March 28. But the new mom couldn't help but wonder what might have happened had she not learned about ICP.
"As soon as I was holding my beautiful baby girl in my arms, all I could think was, 'What if?'" DePino told TODAY. "What if I had not complained on Facebook? What if no one had told me?"
In an effort to spread the word about the condition, DePino took to Facebook again to share her experience with ICP and advise other pregnant women experiencing itchiness to report their symptoms to their doctors. And her post quickly went viral: It's been shared more than 25,000 times since the new mom shared the message last week.
Ultimately, DePino just hopes that her message can help moms-to-be help their own babies, just like her Facebook friends' messages helped her.
"I would like to urge pregnant women who are suffering from severe itching to be their own advocate," she said. "Know the signs and symptoms, and then contact your doctor. Don't ignore the itch, a simple blood test could save your baby's life."
[h/t CBS News]