If you’re pregnant, thinking about getting pregnant, just had a baby, or are simply *curious* about what to expect post-baby someday, you likely have a lot of questions. That’s normal! While you probably know about some of the immediate issues (read: tearing down there during birth) or are aware that some side effects linger longer (such as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders—the ‘new’ label for postpartum depression), there’s a lot about the postpartum stage that remains hush-hush.
For example, after giving birth to my first baby this past June and heading home for night one with my daughter, I was particularly surprised that when I woke up in the middle of the night to feed her, I was absolutely drenched. I had sweat through my clothes, our sheets, and was wiping beads off of my body. What I didn’t know at the time: Postpartum night sweats are a common occurrence after giving birth. In fact, some research suggests 29 percent of women experience postpartum hot flashes, which usually happen at night.
But what causes new moms to get soaked every night, how much sweat is normal, and what can you do to cool off? Here, experts explain (and don’t worry—there are drier nights in sight!).
What causes postpartum night sweats?
Well, there are two main causes. The first one: Postpartum night sweats are your body’s way of getting rid of excess fluid. “A pregnant woman has a 40 percent increase in blood volume to support the pregnancy,” says Elaine Hart, M.D., an ob-gyn at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital. “Once she delivers, she no longer needs that increase in blood volume.” So the first few days or weeks after delivery? That blood is reabsorbed by your body and excreted through urine or sweat, she says.
The second cause? A fairly rapid decrease in estrogen. The placenta, an organ created during pregnancy to support your growing baby, makes both estrogen and progesterone and levels are the highest in your life right before you deliver, explains Dr. Hart. Once you deliver the placenta (which, BTW, you have to do after you deliver your baby), hormone levels drop and that can cause hot flashes and postpartum night sweats, similarly to what menopausal women might experience when estrogen levels drop, she says.
Who gets postpartum night sweats?
While any woman who just gave birth can wake up in the middle of the night totally soaked, there are some ladies who are more likely than others to suffer the not-so-fun side effect of having a baby. First, if you had more than one baby (hi, twins or triplets!), you had a larger placenta and even more of that increased blood volume—thus higher (then lower) hormone levels and more fluid to lose post-baby, explains Dr. Hart. In this case, you might sweat more and for a longer amount of time than someone who had just one baby.
Also: If you had a lot of water retention during pregnancy (read: swelling), then you might wind up sweating more at night after you have the baby as you simply have more fluid to lose, says Tristan Bickman, M.D., an ob-gyn and author of Whoa! Baby.
Lastly, breastfeeding can intensify the sweats. “As we breastfeed, we are suppressing our ovaries,” explains Dr. Bickman. “When the ovaries are suppressed they do not make estrogen, and this estrogen deficiency causes hot flashes and night sweats.” Increased amounts of prolactin, a hormone that’s responsible for the growth of your mammary glands during pregnancy, also suppresses estrogen.
How long do postpartum night sweats last?
Waking up and washing your sheets every single morning on top of caring for a newborn can get old—fast. While postpartum night sweats can last up to six weeks, they are the worst in the first two weeks after delivery, according to Dr. Bickman. Even though breastfeeding does keep your estrogen levels low, postpartum night sweats shouldn’t last for as long as you’re breastfeeding. “With ongoing lactation, your body will adjust to the suppressed estrogen and the hot flashes for most women are not an ongoing problem,” says Dr. Hart.
Personally, I found that my sweating lasted about six weeks, slowly tapering down to the point where, now that I’m three months postpartum, I’m no longer sweating in the middle of the night.
If you’re waking up soaked past the six-week mark or notice things getting worse? Touch base with your primary care doctor or your ob-gyn. Hyperthyroidism, an excess of the thyroid-produced hormone thyroxine, can show up with symptoms such as heat intolerance and sweating, says Dr. Hart.
How can you put an end to postpartum night sweats?
There’s not a ton you can do about night sweats after delivery, but know that “it is temporary and gets better with time,” assures Dr. Bickman.
The best relief usually comes in the form of comfort: sleeping with the windows open or the air conditioner or fan on, wearing less clothing, and sleeping in only sheets.
If you’re worried about soaking through your sheets, consider a more moisture-wicking material like bamboo.Two other ideas: over the counter estrogen, like black cohosh, which could help with hot flashes, or maybe even eating foods rich in soy, says Dr. Hart.
And don’t forget that if you’re experiencing postpartum night sweats, staying hydrated—since your body is getting rid of fluids at a seriously fast clip—is a must. At least you can add wine to your list of beverages now?!