Mom and daughter

How long do postpartum symptoms last? When symptoms are holding you back from having your second.

Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.

How long do postpartum symptoms last? 


Shouldn’t they resolve in a few weeks, or at longest, a few months after you have your baby?


Not always. 


In this blog, I’ll discuss four reasons why your postpartum symptoms might last for a year…or more…and why these symptoms, plus the lack of comprehensive community support, might make you rightfully hesitant about growing your family.


You've been exposed (or are currently being exposed to) mold

A few months after giving birth, you’re struggling with poor sleep, brain fog, and daytime drowsiness, but you suck it up and power through with an extra cup of coffee (that you have reheated three times because you keep forgetting about it). 


You’re not too worried about your diminishing energy and cognitive function because this is just mom life—you were expecting these types of symptoms for the first few months postpartum…but suddenly, you’re on month six, and nothing has changed. 


The initial wave of support and sympathy from family and friends is waning.


You're tired. 

Then it's month nine, then a year…your toddler is finally sleeping through the night, but you are up at 2 am Googling “How long do postpartum symptoms last?” 


Problems like fatigue, insomnia, brain fog, and forgetfulness are infamous postpartum symptoms. But did you know that symptoms of mold toxicity can look a lot like these classic postpartum symptoms?


Never-ending fatigue and problematic brain fog (1) are major red flags for mold exposure. Because mycotoxins from mold affect your immune and nervous systems, symptoms like frequent illness and insomnia (2) can also indicate mold exposure.  


A 2020 longitudinal cohort study found that mold exposure at home or work is linked to sleep disturbance, including insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, night wakings, waking too early, snoring, and excessive daytime sleepiness (3). 


So, how do you distinguish between normal postpartum symptoms and mold exposure? 


Often, it involves a few things. First is trusting your intuition—if your postpartum symptoms seem too extreme and you know something is not right, listen to that voice


Next, identifying a source of mold can help confirm your exposure and know that mold can be present even without visible mold spores. 


Finally, a thorough analysis of your health history and specific testing can help pinpoint mold toxicity and get you on the road to recovery. 


You have a hidden parasite. 

The topic of hidden parasites has been exploding on social media, and you’ve probably noticed the boom in content marketed towards parasite cleanses and detoxes. 


There are many types of parasites capable of infecting humans and causing symptoms. Hookworm is very common, and it has been estimated that around 25% of pregnant women worldwide have hookworm (4). 


When I saw that number, I was shocked! 25%?! Why isn’t this common knowledge? Fascinatingly, the lack of awareness is likely because pregnant women may have fewer symptoms than those outside of pregnancy (it's not uncommon for hookworm infection to be asymptomatic), and hookworm infection during pregnancy may even have some benefits for pregnant women. 


This sounds wild, but it’s all due to the complex immune changes during pregnancy. Necessary shifts in immune balance occur to help protect the developing fetus and ensure a healthy delivery. 


But what happens after pregnancy? 


The immune system gradually begins to shift out of the anti-inflammatory, immune-suppressive pregnancy state (dominated by a Th2 and Th3 response) to a more inflammatory state (dominated by a Th1 response) (5). When this happens, it’s possible that a parasitic infection that was suppressed and hidden during pregnancy may begin to cause noticeable symptoms. 


Parasitic infection is often associated with gut symptoms like diarrhea, serious bloating, and cramping. However, another widespread symptom is iron deficiency anemia and nutrient deficiency (6). This may manifest as fatigue, frequent headaches, trouble sleeping, and even hair loss. So, are those lingering postpartum symptoms? Or a parasite?


You can book a Meet Dr. B call, and we can find out for sure. 


You’re experiencing a reactivated viral infection. 

The immune changes that occur during pregnancy and postpartum are profound. 


As mentioned above, during pregnancy, your body shifts into a heightened immunosuppressive Th2 state to protect the baby and ensure a healthy pregnancy. But when this immune shift begins to reverse postpartum, you may experience a rebound effect leading to noticeable and sometimes severe, symptoms. 

If you have a history of viral infection, such as mononucleosis (usually referred to as “mono” and caused by the Epstein-Barr virus), viral reactivation postpartum may be a hidden factor behind your lingering postpartum symptoms. 


In addition to the postpartum immunological rebound effect, heightened stress increases the likelihood of viral reactivation (7). 


There are numerous sources of stress during postpartum and motherhood, and these stressors may affect some women more than others, depending on their existing support systems. 


All mothers will experience sleeplessness, but it will turn into pure exhaustion and immune dysfunction if they don’t have time to nap, take a walk, or simply sit and do absolutely nothing


All mothers will experience mental fatigue, but this will turn into nervous system dysregulation if they have no one to help share the mental load of motherhood and no one to plan and execute dinner or turn over the laundry. 


The bottom line is that carrying the entire burden of motherhood yourself will result in burnout that bleeds into all areas of your life, including exacerbating the immunological changes that worsen postpartum symptoms. For you, that might be viral reactivation.


You have an undiagnosed autoimmune condition

You’ve never had any hint of autoimmunity, and now, a couple of years postpartum, you’re noticing a pattern of symptoms that are suspiciously suggestive of an autoimmune condition. 


What’s going on?


Once again, we must consider the postpartum immune system and hormones. All immune shifts that increase the risk of viral reactivation and parasite infection postpartum also increase the likelihood of autoimmunity (8). 


Women, in general, are significantly more likely to develop an autoimmune disease compared with their male counterparts, suggesting that female hormones play a major role in immune dysfunction (9). 


The first year postpartum seems to be the time when a woman is at the most risk of developing an autoimmune disease (10), and this risk is significantly increased for women experiencing postpartum depression (11). 


Not surprisingly, stress is a trigger for autoimmunity (12), and relational stress may increase the risk of postpartum depression (13). Looking at this from a postpartum lens, lack of support from a partner and family may be a significant contributing factor to the chance of developing autoimmunity. 


The thyroid is often the first place to look when autoimmunity is suspected, partly because a thyroid panel is included in postpartum blood work but also because hypothyroidism is exceedingly common postpartum. However, if your thyroid panel is normal, keep digging. There are more than 80 known autoimmune disorders (14), and it can often take years to get a clear diagnosis. 


Rheumatic autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, may be triggered postpartum (15), as well as celiac disease (16). 


So, how long do postpartum symptoms last? 


The unfortunate reality is that unwanted postpartum symptoms often linger for a year or even more. While the reasons listed above may contribute to those symptoms worsening, your postpartum support system can often make or break your health. 


As a mom, you know caring for yourself when you have a new baby is nearly impossible. You don’t have the time for showering, eating balanced meals, or clipping your toenails. 


Enter the survival state: caffeinate and try to make it through the day. We all make it through those first sleepless months by hoping to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, many women remain in survival mode for years, leading to reliance on convenience foods, poor eating habits due to sleep deprivation, increased anxiety, and lack of sunshine and movement. 


Years of being stuck in survival mode will lead to physical manifestations, whether that be brain fog, weight gain, anxiety, or triggering illness or autoimmunity. 


So, what is the solution? 


How do you grow your beautiful family and avoid going through the same struggles again?


The solution lies in your village. Your family, your partner, and your friends. Your community. This is the solution to preventing postpartum burnout and long-lasting symptoms. 


Your village will help provide the support you need to take care of yourself so you can care for your baby. This can be as simple as helping you feed yourself properly. 


One of the biggest contributing factors to postpartum health struggles I see in my practice is that the mother is not eating enough to allow her body to heal and thrive. It seems simple, but it is too common for women to feed everyone else except themselves (how many times have you found yourself eating your toddler's scraps for lunch?). 


Some things can’t be avoided because, essentially, postpartum is forever. After becoming a mother, you are forever changed. The emotional, physical, and cellular changes that occur during pregnancy mean there is no going back to your “pre-kid” self. Although this can sound a little scary, it should be celebrated! You can bring life into the world, a truly incredible feat. 


I encourage all of my pregnancy clients to identify and activate their village because it takes a village to raise a child. 


You can do this here even if you aren't a client.


And if you’d like more personalized help, be sure to book a Meet Dr. B call so we can talk more about your needs.