There are a lot of surprises that come with postpartum life and one of those many surprises is the body odor while breastfeeding. No one warns you about that! The only positive is that most of us aren’t really going anywhere the first few weeks postpartum, but then what do we do? We have to re-enter society at some point and strong body odor is the last thing we need. Don’t worry mama I got you covered with some great tips to combat that powerful postpartum BO.
In this guide you will find:
- Why do you have postpartum BO?
- What are the benefits?
- Tips to manage body odor postpartum
Table of Contents
What Causes Postpartum Sweating and Body Odor?
The truth is there is no one culprit you can pin this one on. There is so much changing in your body and they all have an affect on you. Each of these different causes can influence your postpartum sweating and body odor. Hormonal Changes might be one of the biggest culprits, but there are many other factors going into play. Don’t worry there are things you can do about it, so stick around.
These hormonal changes are really the reason for a lot of your postpartum changes. Once your baby is born estrogen and progesterone plumet. This sharp decrease in estrogen and progesterone signals to your brain to sweat. This sharp drop may also lead to other symptoms including fatigue, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and weight gain.
Part of the purpose for this excessive postpartum sweating is to get rid of all the excess fluids you have accumulated during pregnancy. Your blood volume expanded, created amniotic fluid, body tissues expanded, grew a placenta, are now producing breast milk, and your body retained many fluids to support your newborn. Now your body will cleanse itself in attempts to get back to normal. It excretes those fluids through sweat, urine, and lochia.
In the beginning your body is still starting to figure out how much milk to produce to meet your baby’s needs. It is common to leak breast milk from time to time. Milk can become dried on your clothing.
If you aren’t careful you can start to smell like spoiled milk. I remember one day wandering through the library with my infant and toddler thinking “who smells?” It took me a while but finally realized, I was the source. I had been leaking breast milk all day and with the craziness of the day I had forgotten to change my breast pads.
So change your clothing as needed. Use breast pads when you are not nursing to collect any leaking that may occur, and change them frequently to reduce the chances of bringing those smells around with you.
It is somewhat typical in those first few months of postpartum life to forget to do things for yourself. This includes showering. You are barely sleeping, feeding every 2-3 hours, trying to feed yourself, and whatever else you have to do. That typical 5 step skincare routine has probably gone out the window, along with maybe even your daily shower.
Another reasons for less than optimal hygiene could be due to your delivery. Say you have a third degree tear. It can be very painful to go to the bathroom, you have stitches, and just sitting down on the toilet can be painful. Most people are going to be much more gentle cleansing that area due to their current situation.
All these things can contribute to being a little more “ripe” than usual.
The first 6 weeks or more your body is recovering from birthing your baby. Your uterus is shrinking back down to it’s normal size. You will see lochia, which is a mixture of blood, mucus, and uterine tissue. It can have a a musty, stale odor which can contribute to the overall body odor postpartum.
Lochia is usually heavy the first few weeks and slowly improves over time. It is similar to a period, just a little heavier. After a few weeks lochia will decrease significantly and go from red to pink to white and usually resolves after 6 weeks.
Physical activity and breastfeeding can make your lochia heavier. It can also be heavier when you first stand up in the morning.
The sheer exhaustion that occurs postpartum can contribute to your overall odor. Sleep is minimal postpartum. You live in this blur of breastfeeding, hydrating, eating, and recovering. Due to exhaustion you can forget to do all the things including taking care of yourself.
You also probably have less time everyday to spend caring for yourself. While trying to balance learning how to care for a newborn. Don’t be too hard on yourself though it’s really all an adjustment. Just try to take it day by day.
Poor eating, hydrating, sleeping, and hygiene can all lead to increased body odor.
Is There Value in Postpartum Body Odor?
For most women, we may find the strong postpartum body odor to be a huge problem. Our social constructs teach us in our teenage years that being smelly is not good. We get introduced to deodorant, taking showers regularly, and hiding smells with perfumes.
But is it actually helpful in this crazy time of life? There have been some studies done to see how maternal smell impacts their newborns. Newborn’s rely heavily on their social structure to provide them with the things that they need for survival. Newborns typically show a strong preference for their mother’s face and voice.
Research is also showing that newborns are significantly impacted by maternal smells.
- Newborns prefer their mother’s unwashed breast to her washed breast (Varendi et al., 1994)
- Newborns prefer their own mothers milk vs other mother’s pumped milk (Russell, 1976)
- Newborns are soothed more quickly when exposed to maternal odor (Sullivan and Toubas, 1998)
- Maternal smell decreases newborn’s response to pain (Nishitani et al., 2009; Zhang et al., 2018)
- Maternal odor can impact facial processing (Durand et al., 2013; Durand et al., 2020)
- Maternal odor can decrease fear in newborns and infants (Jessen, 2020)
How does Odor Assist with Breastfeeding?
Not only are there visual changes to the breast to assist your newborn in learning how to breastfeed, but their are olfactory changes to assist as well. Newborns have pretty poor vision. That is why your areolas get much darker. They give your baby a bigger target. Your new found body odor is also there to help your baby head in the right direction, as your armpits are so close to your breasts.
All in all our body odor does play an important role in mother-baby bonding and feeding.
Tips for Managing Increased Sweating & Body Odor
Your first concern should be to assess if your bowels and bladder are functioning as they should? Are your incisions or tears healing appropriately (no infections)? Are you bleeding too much? If the answer to any of these questions are maybe or yes you should be talking with your medical provider. If the answer is no you can start taking steps to reduce your postpartum body odor.
- No douching or putting anything in your vagina: using vaginal washes, douching, or putting anything into your vagina can be problematic. They can change the ph and microbiome of your vagina which can lead to an infection.
- Cleanse your body well/frequently: Use a mild soap (without fragrances) and warm water to cleanse vaginal area, and any areas where body odor may accumulate. Be gentle when washing around any areas where there may be sutures. Pat those areas dry with a towel.
- Use a peri-bottle: When you are using the bathroom use a peri bottle with warm water and pat the area dry. It is important to properly cleanse yourself well after using the bathroom to avoid infection.
- Change clothes frequently: If you are feeling self conscious about body odor due to postpartum sweating, breastfeeding, or lack of hygiene change your clothes as often as you need to feel a little more freshened up. That includes bras, underwear, and breast pads.
- Apply unscented deodorant: Use a non toxic deodorant to combat any unwanted body odor. If you are experiencing an excessive amount of odor or sweating consider speaking with your doctor or dermatologist about a antiperspirant.
- Stay hydrated: Sweating is a way for your body to cleanse itself from toxins. Since you may be sweating more to shed some of those extra fluids and cleanse your body make sure you are replenishing yourself so you don’t become dehydrated.
- Carry armpit wipes: If you are frequently on the go and need a quick way to freshen up anywhere carry some wet wipes in your purse or diaper bag to use as needed. You can also use something like this to clean up breast milk leakage or spit up that may occur.
- Shave your armpits: Hair in the armpit area can trap debris or odors. Keeping your armpits clean and shaven can reduce the odor that is trapped.
- Sleep with a towel: If you are experiencing postpartum night sweats sleeping on a towel can prevent your bed from becoming soaked. You still may need to get up and change clothes. You may also have to shower, but it could limit having to wash your bedding every night.
- Wear light breathable clothing/bedding: If you are experiencing a lot of sweating during the day or night wearing lighter clothing with layers can allow you to adjust as needed to decrease overall sweating.
- Avoid alcohol & caffeine: Alcohol and sweating can actually lead to more sweating so avoid these two beverages.
- Focus on a healthy diet and avoid certain foods: Eating a healthy well balanced diet can contribute to overall health and recovery. Avoiding foods that are high in sulphur is important as those foods can lead to body odor. Those foods include: onions, garlic, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and red meat. Other foods that can lead to body odor are MSG, cumin, curry, hot sauce, or other spicy foods.
When Should I Worry?
Postpartum can be a complicated time. I found that due to the lack of sleep, steep learning curve, pain from birth, postpartum bleeding, and all the other changes it was hard for me to truly see what condition I was really in. I think it’s a real challenge for anyone. These are the warning signs you should look for that could be a sign that you need to reach out to your doctor right away.
- Fever over 100.4 degrees fahrenheit.
- Large blot clots (larger than an egg) or soaking a pad within an hour for 2 hours.
- Discharge or bleeding from c section incision or perineal tears
- Headache that does not improve with ibuprofen or tylenol
- Sudden onset of chest pain or shortness of breath
- Redness, warmth, engorgement, pain, or tenderness to the breast which could be mastitis
- Hardened and painful abdomen, nausea, or vomiting
- Fishy or unpleasant vaginal discharge
- Inability to urinate or have a bowel movement
Oh mamas I hope you can embrace the journey of motherhood with all its quirks, including the occasional postpartum body odor. Remember, you’re not alone in this aromatic adventure! Just as our little ones learn to laugh, crawl, and stumble their way through life, we too navigate the twists and turns of postpartum, including body odor while breastfeeding. So, let’s share a giggle, toss aside those fears of smelling like a delicatessen, and remember that our superpowers as moms extend far beyond any odorous challenges. And remember a little postpartum odor is not always a bad thing. When life gives you lemons, well, you’re a mom—you’re probably too busy sniffing for sour milk to notice!
Jess is a registered nurse with over 6+ years of critical care experience for patients young and old and is the mother of two small children. After having her own children she felt inspired to provide mothers with real actionable guidance and education to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and postpartum experience.