Yes, Postpartum Body Odor Is Real. Here’s What to Know.

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A loving young Asian mother carrying her newborn baby girl in arms, consoling and comforting her crying baby. Hunger and discomfort. Love and care. Motherhood and parenthood concept

It’s no secret that the pregnancy and postpartum period are filled with tons of changes — physical, emotional, and mental. From pregnancy nose to postpartum depression, the symptoms can run the gamut. But one lesser-talked about consequence of bringing life into this world is postpartum body odor. Put simply: you may smell different after giving birth.

New moms on TikTok have brought about a sense of radical honesty to the symptom, admitting that postpartum B.O. can be brutal. “Why do I ALWAYS smell like an onion?” one creator captioned under a reaction video sniffing her underarms. Other parents hopped in the comments section to join in solidarity. “I’m no joke putting deodorant on 6 times a day,” one person wrote. “I smelled my armpits that first time and was like ‘THIS IS COMING FROM ME???!,'” another states.

While a quick glance through a comment section can reassure you that you’re not alone, you may still be wondering why body odor changes postpartum — and whether you’ll smell different permanently, or if things will eventually go back to normal. So we asked an MD. Here’s what to know.

Postpartum Odor: Why Does It Happen?

If you smell a little stronger (or even a lot stronger) postpartum, it’s not typically cause for concern. It can happen for a number of reasons, says Shieva Ghofrany, MD, ob-gyn, cofounder of Tribe Called V and advisory board member for POPSUGAR’s Condition Center.

Hormonal Changes

For starters, “the drop in estrogen postpartum changes your body’s thermoregulation and triggers more sweating,” Dr. Ghofrany explains, adding that the same thing can happen during menopause. In other words, when estrogen and progesterone levels drop it signals to your brain that you’re hot and your body starts to sweat in response, according to the Cleveland Clinic. As you sweat more, you might find that you smell more, too.

It could also be your nose and hormones playing tricks on you, though. These hormone dips, coupled with the increased sense of smell that may occur postpartum, can lead one to think they smell more than they actually do, Dr. Ghofrany says. In reality, you’re just sweating more than normal and your sense of smell is heightened.

Breastfeeding

If you’re breastfeeding, you’ve got a whole new body fluid you’re getting used to: breast milk. Babies aren’t known for their neatness in eating, and even if you’re exclusively pumping, as your supply regulates, you may experience breast milk leakage. Milk has an odor, especially if it gets trapped near the skin (like beneath or between one’s breasts), Dr. Ghofrany says. So what you may suspect is a change in your body odor may just be some spilled milk.

What’s more, prolactin, the hormone that stimulates the production of milk, can also suppress estrogen levels, contributing to increased sweating, and possibly increased odor.

Lochia

Lochia is the vaginal discharge that occurs after giving birth and is a mixture of blood, mucus, tissue, and uterine tissue, per the Cleveland Clinic. It’s often characterized as smelling similar to a period, but others find that the odor is stronger or just different. It’s been described as sour, metallic, or musty. (If you’re unsure whether the odor you’re smelling is normal, it’s always worth checking with your doctor to make sure you don’t have a UTI, BV, or other infection that could be responsible.)

Hygiene and Self-Care

The days, weeks, and months after having baby can be overwhelming. Parents are caring for a new human and a lot is required of them, meaning they may not have much time to shower. Additionally, some people may be reluctant to bathe or give themselves a thorough cleaning right after giving birth because they’re still healing from labor and are afraid of hurting or even injuring themselves. So they may simply be dealing with a little more body odor than they’re normally accustomed to.

How Long Does Postpartum Odor Last?

If the smell you notice is truly body odor, it’s likely related to hormones. This type of postpartum B.O. won’t last forever — but it may last a little longer than you’d expect. The Cleveland Clinic notes that it can begin to taper off as early as one to two months postpartum as the hormone swings behind the odor begin to even out.

But Dr. Ghofrany says people who are breastfeeding may notice their body odor smells a little different until they stop nursing, when their hormone levels return to pre-childbirth levels — and that could be any time between a few weeks to a couple years or more. Ultimately, every body is different.

If the smell is more related to lochia, postpartum bleeding typically tapers off around six weeks, and you’ll notice the scent leaving with it. If it’s related to lifestyle, it’ll last until you get into the swing of your new routine — which, we promise, will happen eventually!

How to Manage Postpartum Odor

There’s nothing “wrong” with postpartum odor changes, and there’s no need to “treat” it, beyond keeping up with regular hygiene practices. But while it’s fine to use soap, don’t douche or put soap inside the vagina, and don’t over-wash the vulva, as that can throw off the skin’s pH and cause yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis. If you’re concerned that the odor you’re experiencing isn’t normal, contact your ob-gyn to ask for their input.

When to Worry About Postpartum Odor

You can always reach out to your doctor to ask for them to weigh in on the symptoms you’re experiencing, and it’s better to err on the side of caution when you’re postpartum — you’ve just been through a major health event.

But definitely consider talking to your healthcare provider if the odor you’re noticing is very strong or foul, and/or accompanied by pain, fever or chills, body aches, or fatigue, as these can be signs of an infection.


Alexis Jones is the senior health editor at POPSUGAR. Her areas of expertise include women’s health, mental health, racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare, diversity in wellness, and chronic conditions. Prior to joining POPSUGAR, she was the senior editor at Health magazine. Her other bylines can be found at Women’s Health, Prevention, Marie Claire, and more.


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