I became a mom late last year, and one of the things I remember most vividly from those wild postpartum days is my own stench (not my favorite word, but truly the best way to describe it). I was experiencing B.O. like never before, and I had no idea why. To be fair, I probably could have masked it with about 27 swipes of deodorant, but I was at home in my sweats with my new baby, and she and I were the only ones in proximity to my pits (and occasionally my husband; sorry babe), so I often went without.
I took to Instagram to ask my fellow moms about the B.O. surge, and lo and behold, this is not unusual. In fact, several friends thanked me for “normalizing” what made them feel bad about themselves or feeling “dirty” in those tough first few weeks as a new parent. So, I’m finally putting pen to paper on this after speaking to two experts, including an OBGYN and a dermatologist. Here’s why it happens.
“Sweating more is very common as the body sheds the extra fluids gained during pregnancy, and with breastfeeding that demands a lot of calories,” says New York OBGYN Carolyn Delucia, MD. “Body odor can vary with the hormonal shifts that occur postpartum, and personal hygiene is still very important during this time.”
New York dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD says that in addition to changing hormones, “it is also thought that when breastfeeding, mothers may release certain pheromones to attract the newborn’s attention and may serve as a guide. This can be a form of communication between a baby and mother.” How cool is that? Our bodies ramp up the odor in our armpits because they’re near our breasts and this helps guide our tiny babies to their food. “Chemosensory signals such as odor have been found to play a role in mother-infant bonding,” adds Dallas dermatologist Rebecca Marcus, MD. “While it’s possible that olfactory signals help to orient a baby toward its source of nourishment, it’s likely that the role odor plays in maternal-infant bonding is what makes body odor beneficial for nursing moms and babies.”
Dr. Garshick says other factors for increased body odor “may also be related to lifestyle changes, as people may not be showering as often during this time or applying deodorant or antiperspirant as regularly.” If the body odor is related to postpartum, Dr. Marcus says “it will likely fade as hormones revert back to pre-pregnancy baseline. If a woman is breastfeeding, it may take longer for her hormones to reach pre-pregnancy levels.”
Both derms agree this body odor is typically manageable with the proper use of deodorants and antiperspirants. “Keeping armpits clean will help minimize unpleasant smells by eliminating the bacteria that causes odor when it mixes with sweat,” Dr. Marcus explains.
If you’re anti-aluminum and tend to go for deodorant over antiperspirants, these are two Dr. Garshick recommends: “I like Andalou Natural Botanical Deodorant in Lavender Thyme because it’s a long-lasting, solid natural deodorant that effectively neutralizes odor with super antioxidants, arrowroot, plant oils, and vegan probiotics. It helps to soothe the skin without leading to irritation. I also like Dove 0% Aluminum Deodorant Cucumber and Green Tea, which is moisturizing and free of alcohol, so it won’t cause irritation, and uses green tea and cucumber to provide a fresh scent. Additionally, it is in a refillable container, so it is helpful for the environment as well.”