Waking up in a pool of your own sweat is never a good feeling, but especially not when you've just given birth (you're probably well-versed in bodily fluids in general by now). Like other symptoms related to pregnancy, it's important for new parents to keep an eye on things like this to rule out any potential health issues.
We've done the hard yards to research the science behind hot flashes and night sweats so you can (hopefully) focus on your new baby and getting the two of you enough sleep.
What are postpartum night sweats?
Postpartum night sweats are hot flashes or significant sweating at night that occurs after pregnancy. Some people associate this kind of sweating with menopause, but the truth is, it's really common for people to experience night sweats both during and after pregnancy.
Night sweats are associated with disturbances in sleep, mental health issues like embarrassment or irritability, and general overall impairments in your physical, social, and emotional quality of life.
It's important to keep in mind that like a lot of similar symptoms that affect predominantly women, night sweats are not often talked about.
There's nothing to be embarrassed about if you are experiencing postpartum night sweats (even though it's not a pleasant experience!) and you certainly aren't alone.
In fact, a paper published in the National Library of Medicine acknowledges that while a lot of literature in both mainstream and academic publications mentions hot flashes during pregnancy, there is a noticeable shortage of information about this occurring after giving birth.
But the facts of the matter are that many women experience postpartum night sweats, estimated to be between a quarter and a third of women who have recently given birth.
What causes night sweats?
In sum: hormone levels and variations. Dr Dara Matseoane-Peterssen, chief of general obstetrics and gynaecology at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, explained to the website Parents that these symptoms are caused by hormonal changes.
"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, vaginal dryness, along with night sweats," she told them.
Interestingly, women who breastfeed also have lower levels of estrogen, which can make them more susceptible to postpartum night sweats.
"Women who are nursing also experience rising levels of prolactin, a hormone necessary for breastfeeding that actually acts to keep estrogen levels low," Dr Matseoane-Peterssen explained.
This actually mimics similar hormone levels that happen in menopause, making it feel kind of like menopause. The body's hormone levels fluctuate dramatically both during and after pregnancy (as anyone who has been pregnant knows!).
During pregnancy, the body releases two key hormones: progesterone and estrogen. Any changes in these hormone levels can prompt an increase or decrease in body temperature.
Is it normal to have night sweats after giving birth?
As we highlighted earlier, it's very common to experience night sweats after giving birth. On top of the hormone changes, the body may be sweating to rid itself of excess fluids.
Pregnancy is often associated with swelling of ankles or fingers, but did you know the body actually takes on a whopping 50 per cent more blood and bodily fluid? This helps to support the baby's growth.
After birth, the body realises the fluid it doesn't need anymore, so excessive sweating is an efficient way to get rid of the excess fluid while the woman's body adjusts.
It can take a little while for the body's hormones and fluid levels to return to pre-pregnancy levels.
How to manage postpartum night sweats
The good news is that there are things you can do to manage postpartum night sweats and help your body sleep while it adjusts to this transition after birth. While these tips may not completely stop night sweats, they will certainly make a big difference. After all, who else needs optimum sleep quality more than new parents?
You might find the following tips useful as they've been proven to be effective in managing night sweats:
It sounds obvious, but excessive sweating may leave you dehydrated. Make sure you are drinking cold water throughout the day to counteract any dehydration. And keep an eye on caffeine — try to drink less coffee in the afternoon and evening.
Minimise certain foods
A lot of people report elevated body temperature and increased sweating after eating spicy foods. You don't have to totally stop eating your favourite spicy meals, but reducing these can help cool your body down.
And, of course, ensure you're eating a balanced diet with lots of lean protein and healthy fats. As every person is different, there may be certain trigger foods that you notice lead to more night sweats, so aim to reduce those, as well.
Consider eating extra soy
There is some preliminary evidence to suggest that eating more soy can help with postpartum night sweats. One study found that participants who took supplements containing soy isoflavones had the potential to reduce hot flashes in postmenopausal women.
Keep your bedroom cool even if it doesn't feel super warm. The body sleeps best when it's slightly chilly so you may want to turn on the air conditioning, grab a fan or ditch the winter doona.
Take postnatal vitamins
While The Prenatal by Kin is designed to keep you healthy during pregnancy, Kin's Postnatal Vitamins are designed to address postpartum depletion and support the nutritional needs of new mothers six months after birth and while breastfeeding.
Postpartum night sweats can deplete your levels of vitamins and minerals, so taking a postnatal supplement every day can ensure you're getting enough nutrients to support you at this incredibly important time.
Kin's Postnatal is enriched with bioavailable ingredients like biotin, vitamin D3, zinc, iron and magnesium to support your energy levels and immune function, while also helping with red blood cell formation, brain function and the health of your hair and skin.
The postpartum period is one of the most nutritionally demanding phases of a woman’s life and our handy postnatal supplement can help you on this journey as your body gets used to this transition.
Think about linens
Consider investing in cotton or linen sheets, as well as other breathable natural fabrics like bamboo. Many people find it useful to sleep in natural fibres and wear loose comfortable clothing during the day.
Another hot tip: have a layered bed set-up instead of a single thick quilt. (This may also help if you sleep next to a partner who isn't feeling the heat as much as you)
It may sound counterproductive at first, but if you break a sweat during the day, it may reduce your chances of doing so at night, especially if sweating is caused by a build-up of excess fluid.
Moving your body is also an excellent way to look after your body and mind if you aren't able to get enough good-quality sleep.
It's well-established that stress is correlated with a range of health conditions, and this includes postpartum night sweats. Relaxation techniques such as paced breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and even hypnosis can help with these women's health symptoms.
Even if it doesn't completely stop perspiration, mindfulness and relaxation are great for mental health.
How to tell if your sweating is caused by something more dangerous
Despite night sweats being one of many super common and normal body functions, it's always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to looking after your health. There are certain signs that postpartum sweats may be indicative of other health conditions such as those affecting the thyroid.
If you are experiencing night sweats, keep an eye out for the following symptoms such as increased temperature (fever), racing pulse, continued headache, weight loss, shortness of breath or a cough.
Some of these symptoms occurring together may prompt an evaluation for other causes such as a thyroid condition or an infection of some type. A GP may need to measure thyroid hormone levels to check this isn't a symptom of something else.
In addition to this, peer-reviewed studies have reported that the most consistent predictor of postpartum sweating is depressive symptoms. The reasons behind this are complex and varied, as it could be due to changes in the central neuroendocrine function or sleep disturbances and other symptoms related to depression and anxiety.
This is all to say: if you are experiencing hot flash symptoms or significant changes in your mood, please reach out to your healthcare provider at any stage during the postpartum period.
(And after that, of course — looking after our physical and mental health should be ongoing for all of us.)
How long do postpartum night sweats typically last?
Generally speaking, postpartum night sweats last anywhere from two to six weeks of the postpartum period, but they are usually at their worst in the first two weeks. This is a general period of transition for the body as a whole as it adjusts to not being pregnant anymore but you should notice positive changes within a few weeks.
We acknowledge that these symptoms can affect sleep, mood and general comfort levels, so we recommend trying some of the tips we outlined above. The good news is a lot of those are small tweaks you can get started on today.
If you are finding that symptoms are not improving or that you are noticing other signs of illness such as fever or weight loss, please check in with your maternal health nurse or GP.
Everyone deserves a good (and sweat-free) night's sleep, and looking after your health is a big part of that.