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Postpartum Shaking: What is it? Is It Normal? Will It Happen To You?

Have you ever heard about the rabbit who gets chased and then finds a safe spot and just vibrates for a while after? What about the cat who hides and finds a dark, warm, safe spot to bring her kittens into the world? Well, as much as we may not have fur, we have a lot of the same instincts and biological similarities to both behaviors these animals exhibit! 

What is postpartum shaking? 

Postpartum shakes or chills are a common phenomenon experienced by many women after giving birth. This is when your body starts shivering uncontrollably, and it generally lasts anywhere from 15-30 minutes. It can really make people worry when this starts! 

But, no need to stress, this is a normal physiological response to major fluid loss, adrenaline, certain medications (though it can happen without them too), and shock to your system from such a sudden fluid shift.

Postpartum shakes can be quite annoying, honestly - it was actually one of the most common things parents said they wished they’d known would happen! Education is power! Luckily for you, now that you’re learning about this you’ll know to expect it and that it’s totally normal. 

Are postpartum shakes normal?

Yes, postpartum shakes are completely normal. Regardless of the type of delivery you have, you may experience this. From my personal experience, I shook like a leaf for half an hour after my home birth and also did in the recovery room after having my son! So many of my clients have also experienced it as their epidurals wear off (along with itching… save that for another day).

Why do postpartum shakes happen?

Postpartum shaking, you may also hear it called postpartum chills or rigor, have a few main contributing factors:

  • Fluid loss: During childbirth, you will experience significant fluid loss through sweating, blood loss, and amniotic fluid release. This fluid loss can lead to dehydration and disrupt the body's electrolyte balance, triggering shivering as a mechanism to generate heat and maintain body temperature. Our bodies are brilliant - fluid loss (plus major change of baby no longer depending on your system and the placenta releasing) can give your body the signals to “analyze for shock” - it takes a bit for it to realize that all is good!

  • Adrenaline surges: Labour and birth is a lot on the body! All through pregnancy your body works in overdrive and then you add a marathon onto that… it’s no small feat. To help us manage in labour, we release adrenaline, endorphins, cortisol, and other stress hormones. Adrenaline creates the body's "fight or flight" response AKA increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolic activity. Because of this, the shivering may occur as a result of heightened physiological senses and increased energy expenditure.

  • Medications: Certain medications administered during labour and delivery, such as epidurals or anesthesia, can also contribute to postpartum shaking. Epidurals, for example, may cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, leading to shivering as the body attempts to regulate blood flow and maintain homeostasis. These are fairly common reactions to Opiod medications which are given via IV and also are part of the epidural cocktail.

  • Heat loss: Any birth in an operating room will involve exposure to a cold environment. The temperatures of these rooms are kept cold to reduce the growth of bacteria, but this can sometimes trigger shivering as the body attempts to generate heat. This also commonly happens if you’ve been sweating through labour and the liquid evaporates leaving you feeling cold after. 

From a physiological standpoint, postpartum shaking are a protective mechanism used to regulate your body temperature, conserve your remaining energy, and ensure survival during this vulnerable time. Like I said, our bodies are pretty cool! 

Will it happen to you? Should you expect it?

While we now know that postpartum shaking is normal, it's not a given that everyone will experience it. Being aware of the possibility can help you mentally prepare for it if it does happen - however, it won’t make it any less annoying! 

One thing that can help, especially if you're in a hospital setting with the blanket warmer being close by, is to get bundled up with warm blankets and cozy in with baby for some snuggles. 

Ready for a confident and empowered birth?

If you're expecting and want to be fully prepared for all aspects of childbirth, including those that aren't often discussed (like postpartum shakes!) I invite you to join our Empowered Birth Online prenatal course

This comprehensive course is designed to guide you through every stage of pregnancy, labour and childbirth and we even hit on the most important topics for those first weeks postpartum. 

Along with the comprehensive course, there are also hours of interviews with experts in the field - think pelvic floor physiotherapists, lactation consultants, even a dog trainer to help introduce your pet properly! It’s everything you need to have a confident and empowered birth. 

You can find out more information and register for Empowered Birth HERE.

A mom holding her newborn baby


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