Becoming new parents is a whirlwind change to your life. And that’s still true when you’re having your second, third or more child! As the birthing mom, all of a sudden, a lot of changes happen to your body. A fairly significant weight leaves your body (baby, placenta and fluids) in one bang. During the postpartum period you experience hormonal changes, you have a strong menstrual-like vaginal bleeding, and likely night sweats, too. Oh, and you have a tiny, very demanding human to take care of, making it a little harder to take your daily shower! Combine all of this, and it’s no wonder lots of new moms find themselves a little smelly. Don’t worry, though, it’s not just you. Postpartum body odor is an actual thing! And there are ways to keep the smell at bay.
Causes of Postpartum Body Odor
Sure, the lack of time for a bath or shower is one thing. But postpartum body odor is a lot more than just that. Estrogen levels drop after childbirth, and this can change the way you smell. On top of that, extra fluids in your body are being shed, which can result in postpartum night sweats and vaginal discharge. The postpartum bleeding means pads filling with blood, which also generate their own odors. And if you’re breastfeeding, there is a whole scent to itself to help your baby find your breasts. (More on this later.) Finally, the stress and anxiety of caring for a new baby can cause extra sweating and raise your body temperature.
Preventing Postpartum Body Odor
While I personally am struggling to completely eliminate my postpartum body odor even at 6 months postpartum (at the time of writing this), there are ways to minimize the smell. And who knows, maybe something will work to completely take care of the issue for you and your particular body!
1. Daily Shower(s) with Soap
The first step is an obvious one, but it does need to be mentioned, because the first few weeks and months with a newborn can be challenging. The best thing you can do, is to make sure you take care of your personal hygiene. Good hygiene means taking daily showers or baths, and using soap – especially on the smelly parts of your body (underarm area, groin – and if you’re like me – below your breasts). Try to take your time to really wash yourself. I know this can be hard when your little one doesn’t want to be separated from you for even a second! If you can find 5 minutes, an extra shower can be beneficial too. Taking a quick shower in the morning and again in the evening can help you feel so much more fresh. (Tip: I like to put my baby in the seat of her swing, bring that into the bathroom and position her so that she can watch me shower. It works great!)
2. Regularly change and wash your bath towel
Bath towels can start smelling a bit funky if they aren’t dried properly or exchanged frequently. Drying your clean body with a funky smelling towel isn’t going to set you up for success. Change out and wash your towels often and make sure they completely dry before you fold them and put them away.
3. Shave your armpits
Underarm hair can trap your sweat. And trapped moisture can cause bacteria growth, which will create underarm odor. Keeping your armpits shaved will help keep smell at bay.
4. Use a natural deodorant
Now, this one is a bit tricky. I do actually think that natural deodorants aren’t quite as effective in blocking out odor as some of the “normal” ones. But I also think it’s so important to your health and that of your baby’s. I personally will deal with a bit of odor in order to feel like I am doing something to keep my baby and me healthy. Natural deodorants will definitely help you if you are struggling with sensitive skin. In any case, wearing a natural deodorant will help fight odor better than going without any deodorant. And with a natural one, you don’t have to worry about your baby coming into contact with it while breastfeeding.
5. Wear natural fabrics
Synthetic fabrics lock in moisture, and moisture on your body will create a smell (through odor-causing bacteria that thrives in moisture). Stick to breathable materials, such as cotton, linen, (or wool and silk if you aren’t vegan). You can also try out man-made fabrics that are made with natural materials. I find that I personally do okay with those too. Such fabrics are rayon and acetate, for example, but also bamboo and hemp. You mostly want to steer clear of polyester, which is NOT natural and yet very widely found. I personally smelled bad whenever I wore polyester or other such synthetic fibers, even long before I was first pregnant. This rule of natrual fabrics should go right down to your undergarments! I personally wear a bamboo nursing bra and cotton underwear.
6. Change your pads regularly
Childbirth means vaginal bleeding, and you can’t really use cups or discs during the first few weeks postpartum. Sanitary napkins can mean increased vaginal odor, though, so change your pads regularly. If you are looking for an eco-friendly way to do this, then invest in some cloth pads during your pregnancy to use once your baby is born.
7. Drink a lot of water
Drinking more than enough water can help flush out excess fluids from your body (counterintuitive, I know). And it will help you overall with breastfeeding too! Once those fluids are out, your night sweats should stop.
8. Eat healthy foods
A healthy diet can help prevent body odor. Have you ever noticed your body lets off a stronger smell after you devoured a bunch of unhealthy snacks? All those added ingredients you wouldn’t find in whole foods cause your body odor to smell worse. I know this might be a hard one to hear, given that you are probably sleep-deprived and nap trapped with your little wonder and are living on packaged foods. But believe me, a lot of healthy meals are actually super easy to make! (And snack on fruits and nuts – it doesn’t get much easier or healthier than that!)
I personally am also a big believer in the fact that consuming meat (particularly red meat) causes body odor. So if you are a meat eater, and you’re struggling with body odor, I encourage you to go vegan! (Check out my recipes for inspiration on easy, healthy meals every mom can make!)
9. Have baby wipes handy
I don’t love suggesting we carry baby wipes with us, because it isn’t zero waste and ends up in landfill. However, I have definitely been out and about when noticing that I REEK. It’s such an uncomfortable feeling. So, even though we use cloth wipes for our actual babies, I have had to get into the habit of having a pack of disposable wipes with me, so that I can quickly go to the restroom (or my car) and wipe my armpits and breasts for a quick refresh. This is also why I highly suggest you keep an extra deodorant in your diaper bag. After wiping yourself clean, add a fresh layer of deodorant. (I like to use these Honest wipes. They are plant-based, cruelty-free, and hyporallergenic.)
You’re Smelly For Your Baby
I mean this in the best possible way! Your body is releasing a distinct odor to help your newborn baby find your breast and to comfort them. Babies have somewhat poor eyesight when they are born, but they have a good sense of smell and can, therefore, already smell you. This helps you strengthen your bond with your baby, and it helps your newborn find your nipple and, thus, their food source. So, as annoying it is to smell yourself, try and look at it with a bit of positivity! Your sweat glands aren’t here just to shut you off from society, they are creating a distinct smell for your baby to recognize! It’s the mother’s scent! (Check out this blog post for 25 Ingenious Ideas For What To Do With Left Over Breast Milk)
Detoxing Your Armpits
You can make a paste from mixing bentonite clay, apple cider vinegar and water. Spead it onto your armpits and leave for a few minutes before waashing it off. I would, however, recommend that you discuss this with your healthcare provider just to be sure this is the right thing for you (and your breastfed baby).
Signs Of Yeast
Another negative side effect of being sweaty is that your skin might get a yeast or fungal infection. This will likely show up as red or pink blotches on your skin. They may or may not be itchy or flaky. Either way, if you notice something like this, you best go see your dermatologist. There are over-the-counter creams to treat year or fungal infections, but it can be helpful for the dermatologist to figure out what kind of fungi you are dealing with in order to properly treat it.
A lot of new moms (and even dads or non-brithing mothers) go through some aspect of postpartum depression (PPD). This can start in what is called the fourth trimester (newborn phase), but even months later. PPD too can be caused by changing hormone levels. It can show itself as a loss of joy, hightened anxiety, tiredness, rage, and many other symptoms. Postpartum body changes can make it hard for you to feel comfortable in your body, which might make you avoid caring for it.
Personally, I found that PPD made it harder for me to properly take care of my body. I didn’t have the energy to exercise. I felt I didn’t even have the time to properly shower and moisturize my body afterward. Taking the time to go get another glass of water to drink seemed ridiculously hard. Some moms struggle to shower and clean themselves adequately because their PPD shows itself in that way. So, if you find that your body odor postpartum is more due to a lack of hygiene, then don’t be embarrassed! But do seek out your healthcare provider and ask for help with your PPD.
When Will Postpartum Odor Stop?
Unfortunately, the answer varies, and it can be that your postpartum odor remains until you are finished with nursing your little one. (And this can be as long as 1-2 years or however long you decide to nurse!) The good news, however, is that I do think the worst time is during the first few weeks when everything is so new and stressful (stress sweats are all the smellier in my experience!). Plus, if you live in a place that has different seasons, you might find that the worst of your body odor happens during the warm period and will become less so once the weather cools down. Personally, I expect to have some body odor until I am done nursing and my breasts (hopefully) go down in size again (see more in personal note below). In the meantime, the best way for you to deal with your unpleasant odors during the postpartum phase is to do whatever you can to feel more comfortable in your skin by following the above tips. And remember, your body is doing AMAZING things!
I personally struggled with (am still struggling with) postpartum body odor with my second baby. Even during this second pregnancy, I had issues with body odor that I had hoped would go away once the baby was born (due to hormonal shifts). Unfortunately, that wasn’t true, or at least not completely. I have found that the worst of my smell now, postpartum, actually comes from my larger breasts causing me to sweat in the chest area. I have tried all the tricks. Shower often, use soap underneath breasts, make sure to dry the area after the shower, and even periodically during the day as I sweat, wear natural fabrict… I even use deodorant under my breasts! And still… the odor. *Sigh* I mention this just in case you too are struggling with postpartum odor that you just can’t seem to be able to completely get rid of. You are not alone! I do think that we probably smell it more than anyone else around us does. And again, our postpartum bodies are still doing amazing things. Let’s all give ourselves grace.