What You Need to Know About Postpartum Hot Flashes

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After having a baby, your body goes through many postpartum changes as it adjusts back to pre-pregnancy levels. Post-pregnancy recovery can come with a variety of symptoms, all dependant on you and your experience. Generally, you can expect fatigue, mood changes, hair loss, and more—including hot flashes—as your hormones change and fluctuate.

Many people associate hot flashes with menopause, but they can also occur during other times of hormonal fluctuations, such as pregnancy or postpartum.

So, do not be alarmed if you are suddenly feeling hot or are breaking out in a sweat after having a baby! Research has found that 35% of women experience hot flashes during pregnancy, while 29% of women experience hot flashes after delivery. If you one of those, here is what you need to know.

What Are Postpartum Hot Flashes?

Hot flashes, sometimes known as hot flushes, come on suddenly. They usually occur in the weeks after your baby is born. You may experience sensations of heat on your face, shoulders, neck, and chest that can cause you to sweat profusely. This can also be accompanied by redness in those areas. Sometimes, a slight chill follows this excessive heat, causing you to feel both hot and cold.

Hot flashes at night are called night sweats. This is when you wake up in the middle of your sleep to find yourself feeling hot and wet with sweat.

Causes

Your body goes through many changes during pregnancy, including the release of two hormones—progesterone and estrogen—in large amounts. But as soon as your baby and placenta are delivered, these hormone levels plummet. “In general, diminished estrogen levels are noted during both the immediate postpartum period, especially during lactation, and in menopause,” explains Alyssa Dweck, MD, New York-based OB/GYN, and author.

It can take some time for your hormones to go back to their pre-pregnancy levels, and this fluctuation can lead to hot flashes. “Low estrogen due to lack of ovulation [during postpartum and menopause] and little to no estrogen production by the ovaries affects a particular area of the brain known as the thermoregulatory zone," Dr. Dweck continues. "The result is a very narrow window of tolerable temperatures for women and notable hot flashes in the day and night can occur.”

As your body adjusts to the changing hormones in the weeks after your newborn arrives, you may also notice you are peeing and sweating more. This is your body ridding itself of the excess fluid accumulated during pregnancy. This can also contribute to the sweaty feeling of hot flashes.

Symptoms of Postpartum Hot Flashes

  • Irritability and tiredness
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Strong body odor
  • Waking up often
  • Feeling dehydrated

How Long Do Postpartum Hot Flashes Last?

The postpartum period typically lasts for about six weeks or longer after childbirth, during which many postpartum symptoms, including hot flashes, are quite pronounced. "After delivery, it can take a week to months to return to regular ovulation and monthly menstrual cycles. Until this occurs, estrogen (typically produced at high levels during ovulation) is super low,” says Dr. Dweck.

Hot flashes tend to be the worst at the two-week mark after childbirth, after which they typically decline. “When estrogen production resumes with ovulation and regular menses, hormonal hot flashes and night sweats typically resolve,” Dr. Dweck explains.

Postpartum Hot Flashes and Breastfeeding

During pregnancy, your body begins producing prolactin to stimulate the growth of mammary tissue in anticipation of breastfeeding. The progesterone and estrogen present during pregnancy suppress milk production, but as those hormone levels drop after childbirth, the body can begin producing milk.

When this happens, your body temperature increases by about half a degree, contributing to hot flashes. “Lactation tends to delay the return to ovulation,” explains Dr. Dweck. “The longer the delay until ovulation and estrogen production, the longer hot flashes may last. "

Even if you are not breastfeeding, your body still produces prolactin. But prolactin levels are stimulated by suckling, so if you do not breastfeed, your levels will naturally drop.

As milk production reduces, your period will probably return within six to eight weeks, bringing you some relief from hot flashes. “With the return of menses, hot flashes tend to subside,” Dr. Dweck says.

Other Reasons for Night Sweats

  • Side effects of some medication
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Anxiety
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Postpartum thyroiditis
  • Infection
  • Diabetes
  • Elevated BMI/ Obesity


Managing Postpartum Hot Flashes

Know that postpartum hot flashes will naturally disappear as your hormone and fluid levels regulate. However, dealing with the symptoms until then can be uncomfortable. Here are few things you can do to soothe postpartum hot flashes and night sweats.

Keep Cool

This is a good time to make use of an air conditioner or a fan. You can also keep a window open to let in some cool breeze. It can also be helpful to wear moisture-wicking clothes like cotton and other natural fibers.

If you sweat a lot at night, try switching to moisture-wicking bedsheets. You can also cover your bedsheets with a towel to absorb the sweat.

Drink Water

All that sweating, along with the loss of bodily fluids, can leave you feeling dehydrated. It’s important for you to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Besides helping you keep cool, drinking water is also vital if you are breastfeeding.  

Avoid Trigger Foods

Certain foods and drinks can worsen the symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats. Track your symptoms to see if any foods stimulate your hot flashes, then do your best to avoid them. Common trigger foods include:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Spicy Foods
  • Large Meals
  • Hot foods or liquids

Manage Stress and Improve Sleep

Stress and anxiety can also trigger hot flashes. However, simple relaxation techniques may be able to help. Dr. Dweck says that paced respiration exercises, meditation, or mindfulness might be able to provide relief.

Since stress caused by insufficient sleep may trigger night sweats, getting enough sleep is important for you. Trying relaxation techniques before bedtime may help; yoga, for example, has been shown to improve sleep when experiencing hot flashes.

Research has also found that pilates exercise, back massage, foot reflexology, and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help improve sleep and reduce fatigue for postpartum people.

Natural Remedies

While there are other, non-medical, options available, their efficacy is not well documented, especially for postpartum people. Plant-sourced isoflavones, for example, are an over-the-counter supplement often explored by menopausal women experiencing hot flashes and night sweats. “[However], since the postpartum period is usually short-lived, these are not usually recommended for the postpartum group,” Dr. Dweck says.

Some plants with estrogen-like properties, known as phytoestrogen, have been shown to reduce the frequency of hot flushes in menopausal women. One such plant is soy, which has been shown to reduce the frequency of hot flashes in menopausal women. “Ingesting a large amount of soy might help to alleviate hot flashes,” says Dr. Dweck. “Soy sauce is typically not the best source but other soy products could potentially have a small effect.”

However, experts warn that natural remedies may not be safe, especially if you are breastfeeding. It’s best to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplements or making changes to your diet.

When to Call a Doctor

Hot flashes and night sweats naturally subside as your hormones regulate to pre-pregnancy levels. You should call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms along with the night sweats:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Productive cough
  • Chest pain
  • Persistent headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore lump in breasts
  • Uterine pain in the lower abdomen
  • Bad smelling vaginal discharge
  • Pain while urinating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety and emotional problems
  • Symptoms of depression
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