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What Causes Body Odor During Pregnancy?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Schlette, MSN, RN
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 countless changes your body is experiencing 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 BO 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 changes you can expect.

  • Your blood flow increases.
  • Your body temperature increases.
  • Your basal metabolic rate increases.
  • Your sweat glands are more active, and the composition of your sweat changes.
  • You’re just bigger! More skin means more places for bacteria to hide.
  • Your hormone levels are fluctuating, which changes your body’s biochemistry, from your skin pH to your gut flora.
  • You retain more fluid (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 the milk in our fridge had soured and was about to throw it out when my husband timidly told me the milk was just fine; it 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 is strange or offensive somehow. 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 pong during pregnancy is that our natural scent is a unique marker that evolved to encourage our infants to turn towards 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 very thoroughly with a freshly laundered towel each time. It’s a lot of laundry, but a small price to pay for the confidence boost.

If dampness is a problem, liberal sprinkles of talcum powder in key areas will keep you dry and comfortable, and help with any chafing. Keep that talcum powder away from your nether regions though — the jury is still out on whether it causes cancer.

Wearing loose, natural fibers whenever possible will also help your skin breathe. Light cotton clothing is also easy to clean – 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, shall we say, aromatic aspects of rearing a little one?

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

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

1. Vaginal Odor

There’s no delicate way to put it, I’m afraid. There’s just something going on down there. Stress, sweat, antibiotic use, hormonal imbalance, infection or regular old BO 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, a possibility is to 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 strong, fragranced products for this area of your body — they invariably make things worse! A few natural, organic products may be your holy grail, however. 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 of us 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, however, or in some rare cases, a sign that you’re deficient in calcium or at risk of gum disease (2). 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 won’t go amiss, either.

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 (3).

If your farts are seriously pushing the boundaries of human decency, you could try specially-designed maternity underwear with built-in odor absorbers. Smaller meals can 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. Remember, if you are taking over the counter remedies, use them as directed.

Some Easy Fixes

Again, smaller, more regular meals will cut down on reflux. Consider also whether your natal vitamins may be the culprit – could you take them at another time of day or break the dose up?

4. Musty Hair

It’s true that locks become lustrous during pregnancy. But a few women do find that even after washing, their hair smells different. 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 normal, and make sure to dry it thoroughly — avoid heading to bed with damp hair. T Gel is a popular choice for regulating the pH of the scalp, 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 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.

What to Eat to Reduce Odor

Besides daily hygiene, your diet may be the key to smelling fresh as an — admittedly large — daisy. Most women find all aspects of pregnancy improved when they take care to eat enough fiber, drink enough water, and get plenty of fruit and vegetables every day.

Foods that increase body odor include:

  • 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.

Foods that may decrease body odor include:

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. This means, though, that you may be the only one who notices anything. Even on days, 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.