Night sweats happen when a woman experiences a hot flash during the night. Many people associate hot flashes and night sweats with menopause, but pregnancy, which is also a time of significant hormonal change, can cause them too.
According to a 2013 study, pregnancy-related hot flashes are common, affecting 35 percent of women during pregnancy and 29 percent of women after pregnancy.
In this article, we discuss what causes postpartum night sweats and how to find relief.
Causes of postpartum night sweats
Following pregnancy, low levels of estrogen can cause postpartum night sweats.
Postpartum night sweats happen because of low levels of estrogen. The levels of hormones, including estrogen, change as the woman's body adjusts to not being pregnant anymore.
The body releases two key hormones, called progesterone and estrogen, in large amounts during pregnancy. Changes in these hormone levels can prompt an increase or decrease in body temperature.
Women may also sweat more after pregnancy to get rid of excess fluid. According to the American Pregnancy Association, a woman's body takes on 50 percent more blood and bodily fluid during pregnancy to support the baby's growth.
This fluid is no longer useful after birth, and the body gets rid of it through sweat and urine, so both of these may increase after childbirth.
In some cases, night sweats can disturb a woman's sleep, cause irritability, and affect her quality of life.
Women should talk to their doctor about postpartum night sweats. It is important to rule out other causes of low estrogen after delivery, as it can be related to a thyroid condition called hyperthyroidism.
How long do postpartum night sweats last?
According to a 2013 study, postpartum night sweats are at their worst 2 weeks after delivery. They should gradually decline after this time.
Medical professionals agree that the postpartum period, or the time after childbirth, typically lasts 6 weeks, although some symptoms may continue longer. During this time, women's bodies go through many changes, and side effects such as night sweats, constipation, and fatigue, are common.
In many cases, women can relieve their symptoms by using home remedies until they go away. If the night sweats do not improve, they may wish to see their doctor to find out the cause and discuss treatment options.
Managing postpartum night sweats
Here, we suggest nine home remedies that may help to relieve the symptoms of postpartum night sweats:
1. Stay cool
Placing a bedside fan by the bed at night may help to reduce sweating.
Keeping the body cool will help reduce sweating.
During the night women can try:
- opening windows to boost airflow
- placing a fan beside the bed
- using air conditioning in the bedroom
- using light-weight sheets and layered bed covers
2. Drink cold water
After delivery, and particularly when experiencing postpartum night sweats, women's bodies may need more water than usual, as fluids or "water weight" leaves the body as sweat or urine.
Drinking water whenever thirsty will prevent dehydration, and it also helps with normal body functions and recovery after pregnancy.
3. Eat more soy
Studies into hot flashes in pregnancy and postpartum are limited, though a 2017 study that looked at 50 perimenopausal and postmenopausal women concluded that taking soy supplements had the potential to improve flashes for menopausal women.
The researchers found that the participants taking soy isoflavone supplements for 12 weeks had significant improvements in their hot flash symptoms.
People can increase their soy intake using supplements or by eating the following high-soy foods:
Always talk to a doctor before making dietary changes or introducing supplements, especially while breastfeeding.
4. Wear loose, natural fabrics
Natural fabrics, including cotton, linen, or silk, help the body's heat to escape. If possible, use cotton or linen sheets when sleeping.
Try to avoid synthetic fabrics, such as polyester or Lycra, or tight clothes, which can make people sweat more by preventing the body from losing heat.
5. Limit trigger foods
Caffeine may trigger postpartum night sweats.
For some people, certain foods or drinks can trigger or worsen symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats.
People can track their symptoms to see if they appear after eating specific foods so that they know which ones to avoid.
Common triggers for hot flashes include:
- spicy foods
- hot foods or liquids
6. Try relaxation, breathing techniques, or hypnosis
Stress is related to many health conditions. Learning how to manage stress effectively has many positive results, not just for postpartum sweats.
According to a 2014 review study, relaxation training, paced breathing, and hypnosis may help with hot flashes, though the authors say that more research is needed to confirm the link.
When trying to get to sleep at night, or when experiencing night sweats, women can try the following relaxation techniques:
- progressive muscle relaxation, or focusing on relaxing the muscles of each body part in turn, from the toes to the head
- mindfulness or meditation
- visualization or positive thinking
- deep breathing, such as box breathing
7. Eat well and exercise
Keeping up a healthful lifestyle with good nutrition and frequent exercise can be a powerful tool for improving the body's ability to recover after pregnancy, and improving both physical and mental health.
Dietitians recommend that people eat a healthful diet of mainly vegetables, with some fruit, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats to promote health.
8. Try Pilates or massage
Because of night sweats and other causes of discomfort during the night, it can be difficult for women to get enough sleep after delivery.
According to a 2013 study, there is some evidence that the following methods can help people to sleep during the postpartum period:
9. Ask your doctor about valerian root
Valerian root is an herbal remedy. People often use valerian root to encourage sleep or to treat sleep conditions. Based on this popularity, people may also want to try it to assist them to sleep through night sweats.
Despite valerian's widespread use, however, the existing scientific evidence is not clear whether valerian root helps people to sleep or not. More high-quality research is needed. People may want to ask their doctor for more information about this herbal remedy.
When to see a doctor
People should see a doctor if experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- chest pain
- continuing headache
- shortness of breath
- fever when the temperature is above 100.4°F or 38°C
- loss of appetite
Postpartum sweats are common and not usually a sign of anything to cause serious alarm.
Using breathable natural fabrics, drinking cold water, and keeping the bedroom cool will bring some relief from sweating.
If postpartum night sweats are not improving over time, or if people are experiencing other symptoms, they should contact a doctor.