When I had my first baby, I didn’t head into the delivery room wholly unprepared like the first-time mom that I was.
I was armed, with childbirth classes and a whole year of experience as a labor and delivery nurse under my belt. I had held the hands of women as they pushed their babies into the world, practiced breathing through “contractions” that was actually a clothespin pinched on my finger, and bathed countless babies in lukewarm water under the hospital room sink.
I felt, in a lot of ways, way more prepared than many first-time moms. I could swaddle with the best of them, I knew what to expect when it came to tricking stubborn babies into breastfeeding, and I had my own personal midwife on speed dial, a perk of being an insider in an OB unit.
But a few days after I had my baby, I was completely and totally shocked when I woke up, bathed in a pool of my own sweat, wondering with disgust what on earth was wrong with me. Was I a freak? Was I dying of an infection? Was I the most disgusting person to ever roam this earth?
As it turns out, postpartum night sweats are 100 percent completely a “thing.”
Obviously, if the night sweats are accompanied by pain, chills, or a fever, there is something else going on and you need to get yourself to a care provider to make sure you don’t have an infection of some kind. But if you’re like me and find yourself essentially turning into someone who pretty much downright disgusts herself and slightly horrifies one’s husband, you might just be one of the few lucky ones to experience the fun of postpartum night sweats.
The first time I woke up in a pool of my own sweat, I was horrified and hoped it was a fluke, a one-time thing. But when it happened with regularity those first few weeks and then again with a few (four) babies, I knew that something else was going on.
Eventually, because no one had warned me of this lovely postpartum phenomenon, I came up with my unofficial explanation for night sweating:
Diagnosis: Postpartum Night Sweats
Symptoms: cold night sweats, occurring approximately every other night, lasting about 1 or 4 weeks after having baby
Cause: fluctuating hormones post-delivery and in conjunction with lactation, body’s way of shedding excess fluid accumulated during pregnancy
Even in trying to do some research for this article, I found very little “official” resources on postpartum night sweating, which was baffling to me. Does the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists not want to let new mothers know that in addition to pushing a Thanksgiving turkey out of our bodies, having a six-week straight period, and boobs bigger than our heads that insist on leaking at the most inopportune moments, we would sweat an entire nine months worth of pregnancy “swelling” out of our pores in the middle of the night?
I guess that kind of paints a not-so-flattering picture of new motherhood, huh?
My night sweats were consistent with each baby and worse in my summer pregnancies, when I seemed to swell up like a giant watermelon, even my toes squishy with extra fluid. (Gross, I know.) It was like nine months of accumulating all of that extra fluid was slowly flushed out of my system in waves every single night. And between the milk leaking and the bleeding and the night sweats, I really should have just regaled myself to a little corner of our floor instead of changing my bedsheets every night.
One study found that women who experience postpartum night sweats in conjunction with “hot flashes” might actually have a higher incidence of postpartum depression. The researchers surmised this might be related to a more sensitive reaction to the hormones of pregnancy and breastfeeding. Or, in other words, some women may just have a harder time adjusting to the hormonal shifts that occur during pregnancy and afterbirth. The study also found that young women with a higher BMI and low education were the most likely to experience hot flashes and sweating during and after pregnancy.
Breastfeeding also seems to play a big role in the night sweats, as another study suggested. Breastfeeding mothers were more likely to report “significantly more” fatigue, breast symptoms, back and neck pain, more constipation and hemorrhoids, sweating and hot flashes, and less desire for sex than women not breastfeeding, researchers looking at women in the first five weeks after birth found. The marked difference that the study concluded, not unsurprisingly, was due to “persistent hormonal changes.”
Ah yes, the ever popular “hormones are responsible for everything that happens to women” theory.
But of course, in this case, the argument probably has weight although unfortunately, no real “cure” that I am aware of.
So if you’re a current mom-to-be, just be prepared that postpartum night sweats might just be in your future and if they happen they are (for the most part) totally and completely normal. I just preferred to think of it as a fast track to losing all that extra pregnancy weight that I gained — because we all know it was mostly water, anyways, right?