Night sweats and hot flashes. We’re talking drenched PJs, sheets, the whole works. And I’m not talking about menopause, although we have that to look forward to as well. I’m talking postpartum. About 30% of women will experience this joy (*sarcasm*). The symptoms will peak, on average, at 2 weeks postpartum and decline after, with about 10% of women continuing to have hot flashes at 1 month postpartum. This is the same percent of women that will experience hot flashes during pregnancy, too, although it’s not necessarily the same women who will suffer.
Why oh why?
Hot flashes occur with any marked hormonal fluctuation. This fluctuation occurs during menopause (sometime gloomily referred to as “the transition”), but also pregnancy and postpartum. The physiology and cause of hot flashes isn’t exactly clear, but it’s theorized that our thermoregulatory processes get out of whack in response to the extreme hormonal changes. Postpartum, our bodies undergo a dramatic decrease in progesterone and estrogen (both hormones are produced in excess during pregnancy). With breastfeeding, the low hormone levels persist.
Why does it matter?
Studies have shown that hot flashes can drastically reduce the quality of a woman’s life. They are extremely uncomfortable, embarrassing, and impossible to predict or control.
There may also be a link between severity of hot flashes and increased risk for postpartum depression. The theories: one, perhaps the most extreme hormonal changes or neuroendocrine alterations cause the worst hot flashes and also contribute to postpartum depression; and two, perhaps the toll that hot flashes take on a woman’s quality of life predispose the postpartum woman to depression, especially sleep disturbances in a time when sleep is rare and precious but remains an absolute necessity.
Anecdotally I’ve seen women with more water retention and swelling during pregnancy also have more hot flashes and night sweats, as another mechanism to get rid of that extra fluid.
What to do to get you through it?
Stay hydrated. Keep a change of clothes next to your bed. Change your sheets often. Keep your hair up. Have a fan nearby. And hang in there. It won’t last long.