Have you recently noticed a funky smell “down there?” Wondering if it’s pregnancy-related and if it’s normal or not?
Your body goes through some crazy changes during pregnancy, some of which you would never have guessed. You knew your vagina was going to have to stretch to push out a baby, but you probably didn’t know you’d acquire a whole new aroma down there.
In this article, we will talk all about vaginal odor during pregnancy, what causes it, when you should see your doctor, and how to eliminate the smell.
Is Vaginal Odor Normal During Pregnancy?
Even though it can be unpleasant and embarrassing, vaginal odor is actually quite normal during pregnancy. Around 65 percent of women report they have experienced vaginal odor throughout their pregnancies. Vaginal odor can even be one of the first symptoms of pregnancy.
If the aroma started after you conceived, it is most likely pregnancy-related. Your odor can range from faint to very strong and is usually nothing to worry about.
But remember that every pregnancy is different. You may experience vaginal odor throughout this entire pregnancy and then have none with the next. The odor may also be more apparent during certain trimesters.
Causes Of Vaginal Odor During Pregnancy
There are various reasons why you may be experiencing vaginal odor during pregnancy.
The physiologic vaginal discharge during pregnancy is known as leukorrhea. This is a thin, white discharge that feels wet. While you may feel like the odor slightly changes, it should not smell foul, and it should not itch or cause pain. Leukorrhea is caused by increased pregnancy hormones and blood flow to your reproductive organs.
Editor's Note:Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM
Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes:
- Hormones: Your body is going through massive hormonal changes now that you’re pregnant, and that triggers all sorts of physical changes. This can include increased secretions from your vagina, which often cause a strong odor (1). You may also just be more sensitive to smell and are noticing what already existed, thanks to the extraordinary amounts of estrogen in your growing body.
- Diet: Pregnant women are also more likely to experience changes in vaginal odor due to diet. Spicy foods, fish, coffee, garlic, onion, broccoli, and dairy products could be the cause of your unpleasant smell.
- Dehydration: If you notice a strong ammonia smell, you may be dehydrated. Remember you need more fluids when you’re pregnant, as your body is working for two now. Try to drink at least two liters of water per day.
- Yeast infection: You’re more at risk for yeast infections when you’re pregnant because you have more sugar in your vaginal secretions on which the yeast can feed, creating an imbalance and an overgrowth of yeast (2).
- Bacterial infection: Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal infection in pregnant women and is caused by an imbalance of bacteria living in your vagina. With BV, a fish-like vaginal odor is most apparent after sex. While research may be unclear about what specifically causes this bacterial imbalance, you can reduce your chances of getting BV by practicing safe sex, not smoking, and not douching (3). If you notice a fishy odor, seek care from your healthcare provider immediately. Having BV increases your risk of experiencing preterm labor.
- Viruses or STDs: Viruses, like herpes simplex and other STDs, could also be the cause of your unpleasant aroma.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
While vaginal odor is often completely normal during pregnancy because of hormones, increased blood volume, or diet, sometimes it can be a sign of an infection or virus.
It’s best to contact your healthcare provider if you have a pungent vaginal odor that lasts for an extended period or if it’s coupled with any of the following:
- Painful urination.
- Unusual discharge — change in color, consistency, and amount.
Your doctor will examine a sample of your vaginal fluid and cervical secretions to see if you have an infection.
I know you may feel quite embarrassed by this newfound smell, but don’t worry, there is no need to be. Midwives and OBs have pretty much seen it all.
If you have a yeast infection, your provider will most likely prescribe or recommend an over-the-counter antifungal cream. If your vagina or vaginal discharge has a particular “fishy” smell to it, it’s likely you have bacterial vaginosis and will be put on a course of antibiotics to clear up the infection.
How to Get Rid of Vaginal Odor
If all your tests come back negative for yeast infections, bacterial infections, and STDs, your changing hormones are probably responsible for the odor. It will most likely go away once your baby is born.
Until then, remember that less is more when it comes to cleaning yourself.
In the meantime, you can try some of these techniques to help eliminate the smell:
- Practice proper hygiene: Wash the outside of your vagina with mild soap and water once a day. Avoid using loofahs, as they can create small tears and expose the area to possible infection (5).
- Don’t douche: Forcing water, or any cleansing agent, into your vagina can destroy healthy bacteria or even push an infection up into your uterus. Douching is never a good idea, pregnant or not.
- Use cotton underwear: Wearing the right underwear can help cure your pregnancy odor. Find some comfortable, loose-fitting 100-percent cotton underwear. This will create a breathable, dry environment for your nether regions, as cotton will wick away any excess moisture from sweat or discharge.
- Change underwear frequently: Changing your underwear frequently will also help cut down on the moisture and the smell.
- Cut out tight-fitting clothes: We know yoga pants can be quite comfy, especially during pregnancy, but it’s best to wear clothes that will let your lady bits breathe.
- Switch out cosmetic products: Scented soap and other feminine products can irritate or even contribute to the smell. Try using unscented products or even just plain warm water to keep clean.
- Change in diet: A well-balanced diet will help keep your entire body healthy, including your vagina. Eating too much sugar may encourage yeast to thrive. Ensure you’re getting plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and protein. You could also try eliminating certain foods, such as garlic and broccoli, and adding in probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut.
- Stay hydrated: Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water to help cut back on the ammonia scent and encourage healthy sweating and fluid release. Pregnant women should drink between 8 to 10 eight-ounce glasses of fluids per day (6).
If you’re going to wear panty liners, try to use all-cotton liners or at least liners that aren’t scented. The extra scent might irritate your skin and doesn’t really help the odor.
Editor's Note:Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM
To Sum it Up
Your new vaginal aroma may be unpleasant and embarrassing, but remember that you are not alone, mama. Vaginal odor is actually quite common during pregnancy and is often just due to hormones. It will probably vanish after your baby is born.
However, the odor can sometimes be a sign of an infection, so be sure to watch out for any “fishy” scent, burning, irritation, or redness. Otherwise, practicing proper hygiene, using cotton undies and pantyliners, avoiding douching and scented soaps, and changing your diet will help reduce the funk.