The postpartum phase feels a little like you are Humpty Dumpty and no one is really around to help put you back together again. That's because you and your crew are busy with learning how to, you know, do this whole mom thing which involves a lot of waking up at all hours of the night, feeding your little one, and changing diapers, and not a bunch of free moments for self care. So, yeah, things aren't business as usual, especially if it's your first rodeo. But does your vagina smell different postpartum and, um, why?
"Yes, the vaginal scent often shifts during the postpartum period," Dr. Natasha Chinn, OB-GYN of Brescia/Migliaccio Women's Health and Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (FACOG), tells Romper in an email interview. "There is an expected amount of bleeding and moisture which has its own scent. Moreover, the pH balance can shift as a result of these changes."
Kimberly Johnson, doula and author of The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions, and Restoring Your Vitality explains that immediately after birth, a woman's vagina smells differently because "the uterus is still cleaning itself." The cleanup process occurs in the form of a bloody discharge called lochia, which typically lasts for two to six weeks, Johnson, who is also a postpartum consultant, tells Romper in an email interview.
"The lochia smell is usually earthy, metallic-y, and organic smelling," she says. "If there is a super strong odor, it could indicate infection and a woman should seek out care." The same goes, Johnson notes, if after the lochia is finished a woman notices a strong odor, which could be a sign of infection.
Like Chinn, Johnson says a change in vaginal odor could also be the result of a shifted pH, which "would be normal considered the amount of hormonal changes and/or potential detoxing from medications."
Dr. Rachel Gelman, physical therapist and branch director at Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center, tells Romper in an email interview that changes in estrogen levels may also affect vaginal smell during the postpartum period.
"After delivery, a woman's estrogen levels decrease drastically," she says. "Her estrogen levels will remain low for a period of time, depending on many factors, including how long she breastfeeds." Gelman says Milk production requires the suppression of estrogen, but the vulva and vaginal tissue are mediated by the hormone. Ergo, less estrogen could lead to symptoms like vaginal dryness which could then cause a change in odor, Gelman says.
In addition to a new scent, Johnson says it's important for women to know that many moms notice changes to their vulvas and vaginas after birth. Some women sustain birth injuries that require stitching and repair, while other women’s proportions have changed, such as where their labia are or what is visible from their vaginal openings, Johnson says. Other women notice skin flaps or tags that weren’t there before, or have to deal with hemorrhoids that can change the shape or texture of the anal opening.
"It’s disconcerting and not something most women have considered before having a baby," she says. "Not all of the changes are permanent. Many scars will heal and become less visible, especially with proper scar care. Swelling will go down as bleeding lessens. Hemorrhoids can heal and go away."
But Johnson notes: "Some changes will remain, which can take time to grow into and adapt to. Our deep feelings about looking different are real. Our connection and attachment to our genital identity is real. These are not just any body parts." Hell, no, they aren't.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.