Is every little smell making you queasy while you’re pregnant? Do you suddenly seem to have the nose of a bloodhound and can detect odors that are elusive to others?
The body goes through some wacky changes during pregnancy, and the nose is no exception. Your olfactory senses are suddenly amplified once you’re expecting.
I remember during my first pregnancy, I couldn’t stand the smell of bananas. And, I had been eating one a day before I got pregnant. During my second pregnancy, I couldn’t change my toddler’s diaper without retching — one of the reasons we quickly started potty training.
But, why did these smells that normally didn’t bother me suddenly become nauseating?
In this post, we’ll talk about what causes your sense of smell to heighten during pregnancy, when this crazy phenomenon begins and ends, and how to cope with those unbearable smells.
When Does Your Sense of Smell Start to Heighten?
Most women notice an amplified sense of smell during their first trimester. It can often be one of the very first signs that you’re expecting (source).
Even the slightest odor can suddenly become overpowering. Certain smells you once despised may now seem quite delightful, while others you had loved, may now make your stomach turn. You might even find your partner’s scent repulsive, or possibly even more attractive.
Smells That Trigger This Sensitivity
The sensitivity level varies among each pregnant woman. Some women may only notice a slight to moderate increase in sensitivity, while for other women, it can be quite intense.
The odors that you’re sensitive to also vary from woman to woman. Some women might find the smell of cottage cheese and soap repulsive, while you might not be able to be near broccoli, milk, or even your perfume.
There are a few common smells that seem to have many pregnant women running to the toilet though, which include these (source):
- Fried foods.
- Musty, damp, and moldy smells.
- Outdoor animals.
- Hand sanitizer.
You’ll quickly find your super-sensitive pregnancy nose taking charge of your diet and your surroundings.
Causes Of Heightened Sense of Smell During Pregnancy
When I first noticed my heightened sense of smell, I felt like a superhero. Could something have happened to me that finally triggered some of the superhuman powers I had always wanted? Unfortunately, that wasn’t the answer.
So what is it about pregnancy that gives you this super sense of smell?
Scientific research is unclear, but there are a few different theories out there:
1. Hormonal changes associated with morning sickness
You can blame those crazy pregnancy hormones once again! The rising levels of estrogen and hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) hormones during the first trimester can cause nausea and vomiting. If you’re already nauseous, a strong odor is likely to exacerbate it (source). Heightened sense of smell is so closely associated with morning sickness, researchers have even found that women born without a sense of smell don’t suffer from morning sickness at all (source). Crazy, huh?
2. Increase in blood flow
The volume of plasma in your body nearly doubles during pregnancy, which means that anything moving from your blood to your brain reaches it faster and in larger quantities. That, in turn, makes you more responsive to scents that your olfactory receptors pick up.
3. Protective mechanism
Your bionic sense of smell may even be a protective mechanism to keep you away from toxins and other poisons which could possibly harm your growing baby (source).
For whatever reason, increased sense of smell and odor aversions are something women complain about very early in pregnancy. It truly can be one of the first signs that a woman is pregnant.
Editor's Note:Christine Traxler, MD, BS
Tips for Coping With This Bionic Sense
Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to prevent a heightened sense of smell, but there are some things you can do to help cope with those overpowering odors:
- Use unscented toiletries and cleaning products: Switch out your strong smelling deodorant soap, and shampoo with unscented versions. Avoid harsh chemical smells and stick to natural and fragrance-free cleaning products.
- Neutralize your fridge: Rid your fridge of obnoxious smells by cleaning it out often. Store an open box of baking soda on the shelf to help neutralize odors.
- Eat smart: Avoid cooking and eating foods you can’t stand to smell and that trigger nausea. You might have to switch out those scrambled eggs you were eating for breakfast with a yogurt parfait. You also might even need to ask your partner to do the cooking for a while.
- Wash clothes often: Odors like to cling to fibers on your clothes and bedding and linger around, so be sure to wash them often with gentle, unscented detergent.
- Let in some fresh air: Open up your windows to air out musty and unwanted smells.
- Avoid smoke and chemicals: You should always try to avoid smoke and chemicals while expecting. This is an excellent opportunity to ask your family members that you love so much to quit smoking. If the smell of smoke is lingering on a person close to you, don’t be afraid to walk away or kindly ask them to wash their hands. If you have to use chemicals at work, be sure to wear a mask or ask your boss if there are other assignments you could do instead.
- Minimize morning sickness: Try to keep your morning sickness under control by eating small frequent meals, taking B vitamins, drinking peppermint tea, sucking on ginger candies, eating potatoes, and wearing an acupressure band.
- Have a safety net: Take along a “safety” smell for those times you need to deter your nose from an unpleasant smell. I like to carry some personal inhalers filled with pregnancy-safe essential oils, but you could also carry some lip balm or lotion you know you’re still fond of.
- Surround yourself with pleasant smells: Experiment to find out which smells you now find appealing. Explore herbs, flowers, citrus, baked goods, and surround yourself with those you love.
- Ask for consideration: Don’t be afraid to ask your partner and coworkers to lighten up on the perfume and tuna fish. I’m sure they’ll be understanding of your new bionic sense.
When Do The Smell Aversions Go Away?
Don’t worry, your super sense of smell won’t stick around forever. Sometimes it sticks around until after you deliver, but most of the time it recedes early in the second trimester once your pregnancy hormones start to settle down. Some women are even lucky enough for it to last just a few short weeks in the first trimester.
Until then, hold your nose! Steer clear of revolting odors and embrace the pleasant ones.
The Nose Knows
If you’re suddenly gagging over the scent of your favorite food, you might be expecting.
It’s unclear why pregnancy gives us this superhuman sense of smell, but experts think it might be due to the rise in hormones associated with morning sickness, increased blood flow to the brain, or possibly even a protective mechanism to avoid pathogens that could harm your baby.
This pregnancy superpower typically dies down in the second trimester, but until then do your best to cope with the smells.
Avoid using scented toiletries, detergents, and cleaning products, wash your clothes often, open up some windows, neutralize your fridge, and surround yourself with pleasant smells. Take a day to make the most out of this phenomenon and visit a garden or a bakery!
Did you notice every little smell when you were pregnant? Comment below and tell us which scents you found repulsive or appealing. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it with other moms-to-be.