Do you suddenly feel like you could outsniff a bloodhound? Can you correctly guess what your partner ate for breakfast–five hours later, from across the room? Most women experience a change in their sense of smell during pregnancy, usually in the direction of stronger and more sensitive. In some cases, heightened sense of smell is the first indication that you’re pregnant.
What Is Happening to My Nose?
Pregnancy hormones are the culprit behind your newly sensitive sniffer, estrogen in particular. There isn’t an overwhelming consensus behind whether estrogen physically affects your nose or brain to create your new superpower. Some studies suggest that estrogen therapy or even peaks during a typical reproductive cycle can also boost sense of smell.
Increased blood flow to the brain may also play a role. During pregnancy, your blood supply increases by about 50%. This additional volume may send stronger, faster signals to your brain.
Does Sense of Smell Affect Morning Sickness?
Unfortunately, many women report that heightened sense of smell makes nausea worse. It’s understandable–if eggs are suddenly revolting, a new ability to detect them from a distance could send you running for the bathroom. Even pleasant smells can be off-putting, simply because your superpowered nose transforms a slight odor into a full-blown sensory shock.
It’s not all bad, though. Some people also find they suddenly love certain smells they barely noticed before. Pregnancy can even lead to an uptick in sex drive, especially if the scent of your partner’s skin is suddenly irresistible.
How to Manage Heightened Sense of Smell
You can’t avoid strong smells altogether, but you can minimize exposure, and hopefully reduce nausea. A few of the best tricks include:
- Make home a scentless sanctuary: Swap detergents and other cleaning products with unscented versions. Open windows when you can to clear cooking smells and other lingering odors.
- Ask co-workers to ease up on fragrance: The key here is to be as tactful as possible. No one wants to hear that they stink, and it’s hard for non-pregnant folk to understand how pervasive even a “subtle” cologne (or tuna sandwich) can be. Reassure co-workers that it’s not a personal insult, and offer alternatives if you can (Can co-workers agree not to eat at their desks until you’re through the first trimester?).
- Ask your partner to handle smelly tasks: Cooking, digging gunk out of the sink, or cleaning up after Fido and Fluffy can trigger your nose. Delegate chores you can’t handle. You can also ask your partner to cut back on your food aversions if kissing someone who has peanut butter breath turns your stomach.
- Carry a “safe smell” with you: You may find that some smells are more pleasant, or even help relieve nausea. Ginger, mint, and citrusy scents like lemon are good ones to try. Sprinkle a few drops of essential oil on a piece of cloth, seal it in a plastic bag, and take it with you to work. It may feel slightly Victorian to hold a scented cloth over your face, but it beats a stomach-churning subway ride.
The good news is that heightened sense of smell fades by the end of pregnancy, or shortly after your baby is born. Ride out this odd pregnancy quirk, and know things will eventually return to normal.