How pregnancy affects your sense of smell

How Pregnancy Affects Your Sense Of Smell

by Joshua Calton-Weekes |
Updated on

Suddenly gone off the scent of your favourite food or feeling the urge to inhale that perfume in Boots? Welcome to your new pregnancy-induced super sense of smell.

It’s not uncommon for your sense of smell to change in pregnancy, and more often than not it becomes more sensitive. It could be food, drink, toiletries or even other people that become less (or more) appealing. In fact, this heightened sense of smell can actually be an early sign you’re expecting.

Read more: The early signs of pregnancy

Why does your sense of smell change?

There are different theories, but all revolve around the different processes going on while you’re growing your baby.

‘The plasma volume (blood flow) in your body increases by up to 50 per cent in pregnancy, so anything moving from your blood to your brain reaches it faster and in larger quantities. This heightens your responses and some experts think that’s why you react more strongly to smells,’ says midwifery teacher Denyse Kirkby, author of My Mini Midwife. ‘Your olfactory centres – the receptors that pick up smells – may also be affected by this increased flow.’

‘Meanwhile, some people believe it’s actually a protective mechanism to stop you breathing in anything harmful.’

This heightened sense of smell can actually be an early sign you’re expecting

Reacting differently to your partner’s smell? Don’t worry – you’re not going mad.

‘Pregnancy’s such an emotional, hormonal time, so if he suddenly smells loads better, that could be something primal kicking in for you, that idea that he’ll protect you and your baby,’ says Denyse. ‘Or – if you’re not so keen – perhaps it’s a different type of protective instinct you’re feeling, that you can handle things yourself.’

It varies hugely, but the main thing to remember is that this strong sense of smell does tend to pass once your baby’s born, if not before.

Related: Taste changes in early pregnancy

What can help you cope?

Stick with neutral toiletries if you’re struggling with the smell of your usual ones, and obviously steer clear of what’s bothering you as much as possible.

‘If it’s something at work, it’s worth talking to your manager to see if there’s another task or area you can work in until it passes,’ says Denyse. ‘Some mums-to-be also find acupressure bands can ease the associated nausea.’

If there’s a pregnancy safe essential oil or scent you do like, try putting a few drops on a tissue or flannel when you’re out – that way you can smell it when your train neighbour’s aftershave gets too much on the commute.

‘This basically interrupts the signal to your brain and confuses your senses to hopefully help you manage,’ says Denyse.

As we mentioned, this heightened sense often subsides, but if you’re being very sick or unwell, speak to your midwife just to make sure it isn’t hyperemesis or another pregnancy related condition.

5 ways to deal with your super-sensitive pregnancy sense of smell

  • Make your fridge a safe-smell zone. Place a cup of bicarbonate of soda in it to neutralise nasty odours, and seal strong-smelling foods in airtight boxes – try the Clean Click range of containers, from £2.25 for a 0.15l box,

  • Carry an emergency smell-saver! If nasty niffs make you feel nauseous, find a smell that you can tolerate and carry it with you to reach for when something unpleasant strikes. A scented lip-balm makes a convenient pocket-sized capsule of scent: try Hurraw! Mint Lip Balm, £3.99,

  • Experiment to find what smells you now find attractive – they might be different than those you enjoyed pre-pregnancy. Most mums-to-be find the fragrance of ginger, mint and lemon soothing. Surround yourself with these aromas.

  • Switch to natural products. A new-found aversion to synthetic or artificial scents might prompt you to switch to fragrance-free alternatives. Modern microfibre cleaning cloths can mean an end to using chemical cleaning fluids, which is good for your baby’s health.

  • Plan a day out to make the most of the phenomenon while it lasts. Visit a rose or herb garden, or pop into the bakery or chocolate shop… again!

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