Have you been sweating through the sheets after giving birth? Postpartum night sweats—the same type that happen to perimenopausal and menopausal people—are relatively common, but they can be incredibly frustrating. Here's what to know about the causes of postpartum night sweats, how long they usually last, and ways to cope with them.
What Causes Postpartum Night Sweats?
You can thank your pregnancy hormones for causing postpartum night sweats. "These symptoms are the result of hormonal changes that happen after delivery," says Dara Matseoane-Peterssen, M.D., chief of general obstetrics and gynecology at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital. "During pregnancy, levels of estrogen and progesterone rise. After birth, these levels fall. Low estrogen levels mimic what happens in menopause, and some patients experience mood swings and vaginal dryness, along with night sweats."
Those who breastfeed also have lower levels of estrogen, which could make you more susceptible to postpartum night sweats. Breastfeeding people "experience rising levels of prolactin, a hormone necessary for breastfeeding that also acts to keep estrogen levels low," says Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen. This actually mimics menopause.
"The reason breastfeeding [parents] get night sweats is because exclusive breastfeeding affects your hormones, suppressing ovulation and your period. It's kind of like menopause, which is why women have similar symptoms," says Heather Beall, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist at Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital.
Night sweats can also occur during pregnancy, too. "They are also a bit of a misnomer, since the feeling of heat being trapped in your body, or suddenly being drenched in sweat, can happen in pregnancy (35% of respondents in one study) as well as in the postpartum period (29% of respondents in the same study)," says Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen.
But not all people experience postpartum night sweats. "Most [people] who choose to formula feed their babies do not experience night sweats because their periods return within the first couple months after they deliver," says Dr. Beall.
Illustration by Ana Celaya; Shutterstock (1)
How Long Do Postpartum Night Sweats Last?
It depends, but you're most likely to experience postpartum night sweats in the immediate weeks after giving birth. "The postpartum variety may peak 1-2 weeks after delivery and improve as hormone fluctuations do," says Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen.
And the longer you continue to breastfeed, the longer you may experience sweating. "Many women breastfeed for six months and then they start to add food to their babies' diets. When you add food, all bets are off," says Dr. Beall. "That's when your hormones start to kick in again, you ovulate, and you'll get a period again. That's also when the night sweats and other symptoms start to go away."
Your weight could also influence how long you have postpartum night sweats. "The body has two ways to produce estrogen, and that's through the ovaries and through fat," says Dr. Beall. "Breastfeeding suppresses the activities of the ovaries, but if you have more body fat that's producing estrogen, you may have enough of the hormone in your body to keep night sweats at bay. Those who are thinner may not have as much estrogen in their systems and may have more symptoms."
How Can I Stop Postpartum Night Sweats?
Unfortunately, postpartum night sweats tend to stop completely on their own timeline. There are, however, tactics that can make them more bearable. Here are tips from experts and parents who have survived postpartum night sweats.
Try to keep cool.
Dress in layers, wear breathable fabrics, and keep a fan by the bed (or run the AC), advises Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen.
"Each night I would purposely dress in layers that were easy to shed throughout the night," says mom Brittany Duffee. "I would climb into bed with all of these layers, cuddle up into the fetal position, and wait for the shivering to stop and the sweating to begin. Knowing the puddle of sweat was inevitable, I would also layer my side of the bed with towels every night before bed to absorb the moisture and not ruin our mattress."
Clean up your diet and exercise routine.
"Exercise can also be helpful—even a brisk walk," says Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen. "It's also a good idea to avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can exacerbate symptoms." Dr. Beall adds that while there are some vitamins or supplements you can take postpartum, she wouldn't recommend any additional supplements be taken while a person is breastfeeding.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
"Stick with water, especially if you're nursing, to replace the fluids you sweat off," says Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen. And drink lots of it.
"By my third child, I had a few tricks up my sleeve," says Kristen, mom behind the Momosas podcast. "I would always lay out an extra shirt each night before bed, to change into in the middle of the night. I also noticed that if I was diligent about drinking enough water during the day, my night sweats were not as bad."
When To Worry About Postpartum Night Sweats
Call your OB-GYN if you have a fever, racing pulse, or a productive cough with your night sweats, advises Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen. "These additional symptoms might prompt an evaluation for other causes of sweats, such as an infection or a thyroid issue."
And if your postpartum night sweats cause any emotional fall-out, you should talk to your health care provider ASAP. "Please speak with your doctor or midwife if annoyance becomes stress or sadness which becomes hopelessness," says Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen. "Those feelings are symptoms of anxiety and depression, and we can help."
But rest assured that even if you do experience these emotions, they won't last forever. "I usually talk to my patients about it at their postpartum appointments," says Dr. Beall. "Most people feel better when they know the symptoms will be short-lived."