What is 'postpartum stink'? The weird postpartum symptom that nobody talks about —and why it might be a problem

A viral TikTok about the realities of postpartum life is raising eyebrows —and questions about what's considered "normal" after having a baby.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

What is
What is "postpartum stink"? (Images via TikTok/@z00mies)

The weeks and months after giving birth feature an endless amount of "WTF is happening" moments as you adjust to motherhood. Postpartum body odour is something that can take new mothers — and their partners— by surprise.

A Dec. 2023 TikTok about "postpartum stink" recently went viral with many people admitting they had no idea they would smell after giving birth. TikTok user Abigail, who goes by @z00mie, replied to a video by Sarah Biggers-Stewart about the distinct smell of postpartum blood, that garnered 2.9 million views.

"Nobody warned me about the postpartum stink," Biggers-Stewart said in her original video. The smell would be so intense, Biggers-Stewart said she warned her husband not to use the bathroom immediately after her because it smelled like a "rotting animal carcass on a spring day."

Does postpartum bleeding smell?

Does postpartum bleeding smell foul? (Image via Getty Images)
Does postpartum bleeding smell foul? (Image via Getty Images)

The truth is, yes — having a baby makes you smell. And yes, that smell can last for a long time. This was one of the things I found myself looking up after I had my son because I was sure that something was wrong with me.

Dr. Diane Francoeur an OBGYN and the CEO of The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada tells Yahoo Canada that whether you deliver vaginally or via C-section, bloody vaginal discharge (also known as lochia) is common for approximately six weeks. Lochia changes in colour and volume as the weeks progress, however it does have a distinct, stale smell that's noticeably different than menstrual blood, but shouldn't be "fishy" smelling.

"If there's a fishy smell, that's not normal at all," she cautions." You could have an infection of the uterus and you need to get antibiotics. When you have an infection of the uterus, the bleeding will become more prominent — that's another sign that something is wrong."

What can you do to prevent smelly postpartum bleeding?

What happens to your body after having a baby? A lot. (Image via Getty Images)
What happens to your body after having a baby? A lot. (Image via Getty Images)

There's not much that you can do to prevent the stale smell of lochia from lingering when you use the bathroom. A certain odour is common and totally normal. Although there are a lot of products available, like underwear designed to be worn during menstruation, Francoeur suggests opting for products or pads that you can change a minimum of four times a day.

"If you think that the smell might be too strong and there's nothing like a clean bath to take all the odour away and make you feel better," she says.

Postpartum brain fog — mom brain — and other things that can happen after giving birth

What is
What is "mom brain"? (Image via Getty Images)

Postpartum life is a marathon — not a sprint. Every body heals and recovers at its own pace and experiences its own symptoms. However, one postpartum symptom that most people experience is brain fog, often called "mom brain" triggered by hormone levels changing after giving birth.

"You have to realize that when you have your baby, especially if you breastfeed, your ovaries are not working anymore,” Francoeur explains. “It’s like you have menopause. You may have a change in your body temperature and you sometimes have memory loss.”

Brain fog can be one of the most frustrating aspects of new motherhood. "Mommy brain" can cause you to forget words, forget what you're saying mid-sentence or misplace items in the strangest places —just to name a few. In addition to exhaustion, being physical pain and feeling highly emotional, brain fog is the icing on the cake of postpartum symptoms that can make you feel like you're losing your grip on your new reality.

“Once you deliver, it’s like your hormones shut down. Your thyroid gland will work differently, your ovaries are not going to be working for six weeks," Francoeur says. "It’s all going to come back when you start sleeping again, but it’s normal that all of these changes are happening all at once.”

In the first few weeks after giving birth it's possible to experience:

  • sweating

  • haemorrhoids

  • hemorrhaging

  • urinary incontinence

  • swelling in the hands and feet

  • hip pain

  • lower back pain

  • acne

  • changes in skin pigmentation (dark patches under your eyes, across your upper lip)

  • constipation

  • breast pain

  • clogged milk ducts/mastitis

  • gas pains

  • cramping as uterus contracts back to its normal size

  • postpartum depression/anxiety

  • post traumatic stress disorder

  • hair loss

If it's troubling you, talk to your doctor or midwife

Speak to your doctor or midwife about your physical or mental symptoms after giving birth. (Image via Getty Images)
Speak to your doctor or midwife about your physical or mental symptoms after giving birth. (Image via Getty Images)

Parents are often hyper-aware about what's going on with their baby, but not always willing or able to extend the same level of care to ourselves. Making note of any changes in your body or mood, no matter how embarrassing, and relaying them to your doctor, midwife or healthcare provider is extremely important and can help prevent symptoms from developing into serious physical or mental health issues.

Franceour says it's essential to maternal health to find a support system and healthcare provider that can validate and assist your needs.

“I see a lot of young women who are alone and what they see on social media or what they read is that they have to be the perfect mom every minute, every second of the day,” Francouer says, adding that parents should consider finding support groups or local aids that can help build community and answer questions. "You'll be less shy to call for help — that's the only way you're going to make it through, because [postpartum] life is hard."

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