The postpartum phase can feel a little like you’re Humpty Dumpty, and no one is really around to help put you back together again.
That’s mainly because you and your crew are busy with learning how to — you know — do this whole mom thing. Since the mom thing involves a lot of waking up at all hours of the night, feeding your tiny tot, and changing diapers, self-care is on the back burner.
So, yeah, things aren’t exactly business as usual, especially if you’re a new mama, and this is your first rodeo. But is it normal for your vagina to smell a little weird postpartum? In short, yes. But let’s take a look at what causes postpartum vaginal odor and how you can treat it.
What Causes Postpartum Vaginal Odor?
First and foremost — weird smells are a completely normal part of the postpartum journey. It’s not just limited to your lady bits either. You may also have other new odors that are less than favorable (hello, extra sweating and body odor). Again, this is totally normal.
During the postpartum period, the scent coming from your vagina will shift due to many different factors like moisture, bleeding, and changes to your pH balance.
Immediately after giving birth to your little bundle of joy, your uterus goes through a process of cleaning itself out. This cleanup process involves the secretion of a bloody discharge called lochia. You may experience this lochia bleeding for anywhere between 2 and 6 weeks following the birth of your baby.
Lochia has its own unique smell. Most women describe it as a metallic or earthy smell. So, generally not too offensive. However, if you are experiencing a strong odor , that can be a sign of an infection.
Normal Smell Vs. Infection
After you deliver your tiny tot, your estrogen levels will drastically decrease and will remain low for quite some time. The time period for you specifically will be dependent on many different factors like whether or not you’re breastfeeding and for how long.
If you are breastfeeding, your body requires estrogen to be suppressed in order to produce milk. Estrogen is responsible for the balance and health of your vaginal tissue and vulva.
So, if you happen to be breastfeeding, there’s a good chance that you will experience some changes to your vagina that could include dryness and even a change in odor.
However, even if you are not breastfeeding, you’re still dealing with a complete hormone upheaval that will inevitably affect your vaginal homeostasis.
Is A Fishy Smell Normal?
Here’s the deal, postpartum vaginal odor can be pretty normal, except for when it’s not. If you take a bath, put on clean clothes, and are still smelling a strong, fishy smell in your lady regions, it may be a sign of an infection.
It’s likely this type of infection is a pretty simple one. We’re talking about something like BV or a yeast infection. While you’re still postpartum it’s especially important to talk to your doctor before treating either of those. They’ll be able to let you know what’s safe to use.
Is A Rotten Smell Normal?
It depends on what you mean by “rotten smell” exactly. Metallic, earthy, or even just a stronger blood smell than usual can all be normal. Sometimes if you’re not used to that kind of smell it can smell a bit rotten.
However, if you mean that your vaginal odor has a strong smell that truly can’t be described as anything other than rotten, it may be an issue. If you tore during delivery, had to have an episiotomy, or just had a tough delivery in general, it’s a good idea to take note of strong rotten smells.
If this is what you’re dealing with, it’s time to call your gyno. They will want to know and give instructions on what to do next. You don’t need to freak out. It’s likely an easily solved problem. Just make sure you contact them right away and follow the instructions they give you. This particular smell is not normal and does need attention ASAP.
Not all postpartum odor is the same. What worked for some women may not be the right solution for you, so here are some general guidelines and recommendations to help cure your odor.
First things first — you’ll need to determine what’s causing the odor?
If you are dealing with a fishy odor and a gray, white, or green discharge, chances are you may be dealing with bacterial vaginosis (BV).
BV happens when the normal balance of vaginal bacteria is replaced with high numbers of anaerobic bacteria or bacteria that don’t need oxygen to grow. The symptoms can range from an unpleasant fishy odor to itching, discomfort, and inflammation.
Keep in mind that since you just gave birth you may not be able to use over-the-counter remedies. Depending on how long ago you gave birth you may not be able to put anything into your vagina yet.
Talk with your doctor about your options. They’ll let you know what safe for you (and baby if you’re breastfeeding) and you can go from there.
Urinary Tract Infection
Another reason for your postpartum vaginal odor could be due to a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs are painful and come with a handful of unwanted side effects.
Some of the most common symptoms include frequent urination, cloudy urine, or a burning sensation when you pee.
During pregnancy, the uterus expands for the growing baby. This expansion naturally puts pressure on the bladder and the ureters. The ureters are the tiny tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.
The urine is also less acidic and contains more sugars, hormones, and proteins during pregnancy. This combination of factors can greatly increase the risk of a urinary tract infection.
Women are also susceptible to these painful infections during and after giving birth. Why, might you ask? Because during labor, there is an increased risk of bacteria entering the urinary tract. When that bacteria gets into your urinary system, it begins to multiply in the bladder. Bacteria, of course, can make your vagina smell bad.
If you have a UTI, your doctor will usually prescribe an antibiotic to kill the bad bacteria. You’ll want to work with them and make sure anything you take is safe for postpartum women. This is especially important if you’re breastfeeding.
A yeast infection can happen when the normal levels of yeast and acid in the vagina are out of balance. Some of the symptoms include itching, burning, and soreness in the vagina, along with a thick, white, smelly vaginal discharge.
Yeast infections are pretty common postpartum and may be associated with antibiotics, vaginal birth, or hormonal changes. The good news is that they can easily be treated by bringing balance back to your vagina. Remember not to use anything over-the-counter without at least a quick call to your doctor.
Sometimes there’s just no option other than a visit to the office while you’re early on in your postpartum journey. Don’t insert anything into your vagina without your doctor’s approval first. Your lady bits have been through a lot so the healing time is important.
Preventing The Return Of Vaginal Odor
Once you understand and have the root cause of your postpartum vaginal odor eradicated or under control, you’ll want to follow these tips to prevent it from coming back. Just keep in mind that anything you take (supplements, vitamins, etc) should be approved by your doctor first. Sometimes it’s not safe for baby to change up what you’re doing right now.
Here are some ways you might be able to control the odor a little more:
– Consider taking probiotics. Probiotics — which are good-for-you bacteria — can help maintain the pH balance of your vagina. Consume probiotic-rich foods such as kombucha, yogurt, and unpasteurized sauerkraut. Or, find a great over-the-counter probiotic at your local health food store.
– Avoid douches and chemical scrubs. You might think that these will help to eliminate bad bacteria, but the truth is that they will also eliminate the good bacteria. Let your body naturally work out the bacteria ratios and skip these unnatural washes.
If you want to use a specific wash for your lady bits, make sure it’s a gentle, pH balanced vaginal wash. You don’t want to irritate anything more than you have to, especially right now.
– Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is good for more than just your lovely complexion. It can help your vagina’s overall health, as well, by promoting healthy sweating and fluid release.
– Avoid the sugary stuff. Sugary food can cause an overgrowth of yeast, leading to a smelly yeast infection. Limit sugar from your diet postpartum and stick with healthy foods rich in vitamins and minerals.
We know how frustrating it can be to not feel like yourself right now. Add to the fact that you don’t smell like yourself, and you may start to spiral.
Take a great big deep breath. Be kind to yourself right now and remember that most of these concerns are completely normal. Give your body (and yourself) some grace and know it will all be ok. You are doing so great!
Sarah Nelson is a nurse with 15 years of experience working with a variety of patients. She has a Masters of Science in Nursing and has spent a large portion of her career working exclusively with women in an OB/GYN setting.
Nursing is a passion for Sarah but she also enjoys writing and sharing her expertise online with people who need helpful information. Treating patients well and helping them learn more about their own bodies is a key essential to a healthy lifestyle that Sarah truly believes in.