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Why does pregnancy cause a heightened sense of smell and nausea?

Why does pregnancy cause a heightened sense of smell and nausea?
Writer and expert6 years ago
View Ariana's profile

So one of the most common side-effects of pregnancy is a heightened sense of smell, which in turn tends to trigger nausea. Things that you previously loved the smell of – coffee, perfume, your partner – can suddenly leave you running to the bathroom to throw up. Your new super sense of smell can also make things more appealing, with the smell of anything from toiletries to drink becoming much more apparent.

An early sign of pregnancy

Heightened smell is actually one of the first signs of pregnancy. Around two thirds of women report a change in the sense of smell during pregnancy, with smells becoming much more intense to the extent that you’ll be able to tell what people had for breakfast (bleugh!).

Why is my nose now akin to a blood hound’s?

Studies have shown that there isn’t any physical change in a pregnant woman’s adaptive mechanisms to explain their heightened sense of smell in pregnancy. However, there is an unmistakable change, which has been attributed by some experts to hormones – of course, the reason to blame for all the million and one other weird things that go on with your pregnant body!

During the first trimester is when most women report super-smelling powers. One theory is that it’s actually your body’s way of protecting your baby against external threats. The smell of things like alcohol, cigarettes and coffee can become repulsive – all things that can be harmful during pregnancy!

How to deal with smells during pregnancy

Whatever the biological reason behind it, a heightened sense of smell can trigger morning sickness. In fact, women born with a condition called anosmia (no sense of smell) often don’t suffer from nausea! If you’re already feeling sick, a strong whiff of something can easily send you over the edge.

One of our top tips for dealing with smells during pregnancy is keeping a handkerchief or tissue with you that has a few drops of a pregnancy-safe essential oil on it – a subtle one like Ylang Ylang or soothing Lavender work great. Any time you catch a smell of something you don’t like, use the hanky/tissue as a mask to breathe through. Perfect if you’re on-the-go on the bus or in a queue with unfavourable smells!

One of the biggest complaints is cooking smells – so try and cook things that aren’t too stinky and cook with windows open… or use it as a (very justified) excuse to get your partner to cook for you!

Switch to fragrance-free toiletries and cleaning products. Plenty of brands now offer unscented options – including your fave Mama Mio Tummy Rub Butter! We developed a Fragrance-Free version for mamas with particularly strong aversions to scent, so that you can still get all the same moisturising benefits just without any lingering fragrance. Learn more about it here!

Top 5 most unbearable smells during pregnancy (aka things to avoid at all costs)

  1. Strong cheese. Even if you have been a fan of pongy cheeses your entire life – the smell during pregnancy can be way too much and you’ll finally appreciate that they smell like old socks.
  2. Be it fish you eat or the pond-life at your local garden centre – that fishy scent lingers in the air and will easily trigger your gag reflex.
  3. Body odour. You’ll be able to tell who hasn’t showered in a few days or forgot deodorant from miles away… Steer clear of the gym! (Like you needed an excuse…)
  4. Baby poo. If this isn’t your first rodeo then you’re going to be in for a treat when it comes to changing nappies of your younglings. Hopefully you can find a willing volunteer… or else you’ll need a full-face gas mask!
  5. Alcohol. Linking back to the theory that your body is rejecting bad things – a sniff of hard liquor can really make you queezy. Which hopefully will help make you miss it less!

Don’t despair though mama, your sense of smell will return to normal once your baby arrives. We can’t promise the nappy-changing will smell great, but it won’t be anywhere near as unbearable once your mama-immunity kicks in!

Writer and expert
View Ariana's profile