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Heightened Sense of Smell During Pregnancy

Heightened Sense of Smell

One of the most common pregnancy symptoms — one experienced by nearly all pregnant women — is a heightened sense of smell. Anything and everything can turn a seemingly normal moment into a nauseating experience. Perfumes, food, and body odor have been known to send many women in their first trimester straight to the restroom. Although it’s not quite understood why pregnant women have such negative experiences of smells, one thing is for sure: almost all pregnant women in their first trimester do notice an increased sensitivity to smells that normally don’t bother them.

Causes of Sensitivity to Odors During Pregnancy

Hormones are the cause of many pregnancy symptoms — in most cases it’s progesterone. In this case, however, its estrogen causing the chaos. As estrogen and other hormones are produced rapidly during the early stages of pregnancy, life as you know it can become increasingly difficult. The heightened sense of smell is usually accompanied by morning sickness, which doesn’t help the gut-churning situation.

According to one study, a small number of pregnant report “phantom smells,” which hit the nostrils without warning and without an apparent physical source. Unfortunately there is nothing one can truly to do avoid phantom smells.

Coping with Certain Smells

There are many things an expectant mother can to do cope with a heightened sense of smell. The first and most obvious thing to do is to remove yourself from the area where the smell is coming from. Or, if you can stomach it, you can try to remove the culprit from the area where you want to be. If other people are available, you can ask someone to help you out.

If you can’t avoid the smell, try opening windows or doors before cooking, to help keep fresh air blowing through the area. Also, using plug-in air fresheners or scented candles (that don’t also mess with your gag reflexes) can help hide other unpleasant odors.

Of course you should try not to be around smoke or strong chemicals. If you know the smoker, remind them you are pregnant or simply stay away from them if they are smoking. If the smell of smoke that lingers on a person after they’re done bothers you, you may need to ask them to wash their hands, or you may need to walk away. Washing your clothes more often, using unscented soap, can also reduce odors that cling to fabrics.

The most important thing to know is that many women don’t know which odors will bother them until they are pregnant and experience the odors for themselves. It’s very much a “learn as you go” part of pregnancy. Smells that made you nauseous when you weren’t pregnant can suddenly be pleasant, and vice versa. Your favorite perfume may be covered in dust by the time you can stand the scent again. Also keep in mind that most women only experience this symptom during their first trimester, when morning sickness, nausea, and vomiting are already a major part of day-to-day life.

[Page updated November 2015]