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What Causes Body Odor During Pregnancy?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Schlette, MSN, RN
Updated
Learn how pregnancy changes the way you smell and what you can do about it.

What on earth is that smell? Experienced moms know there’s a fine line between that rosy pregnancy glow and turning into a smelly sweat monster. Thankfully, it’s all normal!

The numerous changes happening in your body can mean a little odor is unavoidable. There’s no need for embarrassment, though — feeling fresh and confident just takes a bit more care than usual.

In this article, we’ll discuss the causes of pregnancy body odor and what you can do about it.


Why Is My B.O. So Bad?

While some women experience only mild changes after conceiving, the rest of us have stronger pregnancy symptoms, particularly in the early months.

Here are some sweat-related changes you can expect:

  • Increased blood flow.
  • Increased body temperature.
  • Increased basal metabolic rate.
  • More active sweat glands.
  • Changes in the composition of your sweat.
  • More skin means more places for bacteria to hide.
  • Fluctuating hormone levels change your body’s biochemistry, from your skin’s pH balance to your gut flora.
  • Increased fluid retention (1).

All of this means body odor may be stronger or change completely. I remember an embarrassing moment in my final month of pregnancy. I was convinced our milk had gone sour and was about to throw it out when my husband timidly told me the milk was just fine; that bad smell was me.

Ah, the joys of creating a new life!

Dealing With Sweat During Pregnancy

A common complaint is a massive increase in sweat or suddenly finding your own smell seems strange or offensive. This is normal. After all, your body is now a hard-working baby factory, so cut yourself some slack.

One fascinating theory for why we smell differently during pregnancy is that our natural scent is a unique marker that evolves to encourage our infants to turn toward the breast during breastfeeding. If you’re still experiencing body odor during breastfeeding, this may explain why.

You might find yourself needing two or even three showers a day. Try keeping the water on the cooler side, use a medicated or antibacterial soap, and dry yourself thoroughly with a freshly laundered towel each time. It adds to your laundry, but it’s a small price to pay for the confidence boost.

If dampness is a problem, sprinkle talcum powder in key areas to keep you dry and comfortable and prevent chafing. Keep that talcum powder away from your nether regions, though — the jury is still out on whether it can cause ovarian cancer (2).

Wearing loose, natural fibers whenever possible will also help your skin breathe. Light cotton clothing is also easy to clean, and a cup of white vinegar in the washing machine will zap odor-causing bacteria.

Perhaps it’s just nature’s way of preparing you for the more “aromatic” aspects of rearing a little one.

Besides sweat, some women experience slightly more disconcerting odor changes.

Let’s look at those areas and what you can do about them.

1. Vaginal Odor

Stress, sweat, antibiotic use, hormonal imbalance, infection, and regular old B.O. can all contribute to a strong mustiness you’re not accustomed to.

Unless you’re also experiencing a rash, pain, or redness, a stronger vaginal odor is unlikely to be a problem. But if you are feeling self-conscious, you can wax or trim the bikini area to cut down on unwanted bacteria. Regular showers and unscented panty liners also work for some women.

Avoid douching or using strong, fragranced products — they invariably make things worse. However, a few natural, organic products may be your holy grail. Try keeping a few feminine cotton wipes in your handbag or use mild baby wipes dampened only with water.

If you’re crafty and like to make things yourself, there are countless recipes for safe, all-natural deodorants.

2. Bad Breath

Those who’ve experienced morning sickness know that extra brushing, flossing, or rinsing with mouthwash is a lifesaver. Bad breath can also be a sign of dehydration or hunger or, in some rare cases, that you’re deficient in calcium or at risk of gum disease (3). Since both are associated with premature labor, chat with your doctor if bad breath persists.

Keep a few mints or breath spray on hand, and always have some water nearby to prevent getting too thirsty. A sprig of mint or a wedge of lemon in your water can help too.

3. Tummy Trouble

During pregnancy, digestion slows. This means you may have trouble with constipation, bloating, or gas, and because of changes in hormone levels, that gas may be particularly foul (4).

If your farts are seriously pushing the boundaries of human decency, you could try maternity underwear with built-in odor absorbers. Eating smaller meals can help you cut down on that bloated, gassy feeling, and you could try sleeping with a separate blanket at night if your, ahem, demons tend to haunt you after the sun goes down.

On the other hand, pregnancy may mean you develop a new mastery for belching, and the delightful sounding “sulfur burps” may rear their head along with some indigestion. Over-the-counter heartburn remedies will help, or try activated charcoal tablets — as long as your doctor approves them first. If you are taking over-the-counter remedies, use them as directed.

Some Easy Fixes

Small, regular meals will cut down on reflux. Consider also whether your prenatal vitamins may be the culprit. If so, consider if you could take them at another time of day or break the dose up.

4. Musty Hair

Your locks may indeed become lustrous during pregnancy. But a few women find that their hair smells different even after washing it. This is because changes to the skin and bacteria on the scalp encourage certain odors, which can get trapped easily in the hair.

A simple solution is to wash your hair more frequently than usual and make sure to dry it thoroughly. Avoid heading to bed with damp hair. Neutrogena T/Gel is a popular choice for regulating the scalp’s pH, or try a drop of tea tree oil mixed in with your regular shampoo.

Finally, a shorter hairstyle or the occasional spritz of dry shampoo may also help to keep your scalp dry and fresh. If you’re not too averse to strong scents, spritz a comb with some light perfume and run it through your hair for a quick pick-me-up.

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Can Body Odor Predict Your Baby’s Gender?

The story goes that you should eat a clove of garlic and watch to see what happens. Immediate body odor means you’ll have a boy, while the lack of it means you’ll have a girl.

While I can’t help but think this is a little unfair to the boys, this is thankfully just an old wives’ tale. There’s no basis in reality with this one and no evidence that your body odor can help you predict your baby’s gender.

What to Eat to Reduce Odor

Besides daily hygiene, your diet may be the key to smelling as fresh as a daisy. Most women find all aspects of pregnancy improve when they eat enough fiber, drink enough water, and consume plenty of fruits and vegetables every day.

how to reduce body odor during pregnancy

These are some foods that may contribute to body odor:

  • Amino acids from red meat.
  • Sulfur compounds from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, or cabbage.
  • Processed sugar and junk food.
  • Pungent foods like garlic and chili.
  • Spices, particularly cumin and fenugreek.

These are some foods that may decrease body odor:


Take Heart – It’s Not So Bad!

Consider it a bit of a cruel joke that not only do we get stronger body odor during pregnancy, but we also get a new sense of smell that feels like it borders on superhuman levels. However, this means that you may be the only one who notices your body odor. Even on days when you feel like there’s nothing you can do to get that fresh feeling, know that you’re not alone and the feeling will pass.

Increased body odor during pregnancy is temporary and perfectly healthy — it just takes a little getting used to. Most women experience it, but even our most embarrassing moments aren’t anything an extra shower won’t fix.

Headshot of Jennifer Schlette, MSN, RN

Medically Reviewed by

Jennifer Schlette, MSN, RN

Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN, is a pediatric intensive care nurse at Children's Hospital of New York for the past 14 years. Jennifer also has extensive experience teaching Maternity and Obstetric Nursing, as well as Pediatrics Nursing.