pregnancy smell

Pregnancy smells

A woman’s sense of smell becomes heightened when she is pregnant. Tracey Quinn looks at the cause behind this.

Our sense of smell

For many women it is an unmistakable sign that it might be time to take a pregnancy test. A sudden heightened sense of smell is often the very first “symptom” of being pregnant. I often wondered how that happened, until I experienced it myself when I became pregnant. There I was in work, at home, walking down the street or sitting on the bus – smelling everything. I had absolutely no idea that I was pregnant but wondered why I could suddenly smell a packet of King crisps that someone was eating on the top level of the bus while I sat downstairs. One night my partner was serving dinner which happened to be one of my favourite dishes. The smell of it, which was no different to any other time he made it, was so unbelievably intense. I can’t say it made me feel sick but it was completely overpowering and I could not focus on another thing. I could still smell it the next day in work, if that even makes sense.

A random trip to my GP soon revealed that I was eight weeks pregnant (and very much in shock). From that point on even the thought of the dish my partner cooked made me feel nauseous. Sadly it has never been enjoyed to the same extent since then. Suddenly it made perfect sense to me that women had a heightened sense of smell while pregnant. I found it really overwhelming at times because it was almost as if I could not escape the odours that made me feel nauseous. I would sit in work and somehow be able to smell food that was being cooked in the deli a few doors down. It totally turned my stomach.

Mary Tighe from Birthing Mamas explains that many women report of having a heightened sense of smell in early and late pregnancy. She adds that our brain is undergoing huge changes during these periods also. According to Mary it is believed that our sense of smell increases “as a way to keep the foetus safe in utero by helping us to recognise contaminated food and avoid it, for example”. In later pregnancy and during birth our hormones and brain “changes to help us bond with and recognise our baby”. Mary mentioned that one of the key ways we do this is through smell. She adds that “there is a reason we love inhaling and kissing the top of a newborn baby’s head – they smell gorgeous and our heightened sense of smell makes them even more so”.

Mary is the owner of Birthing Mamas who provide essential information, products and services to assist women and their partners in having a positive and gentle pregnancy, childbirth and parenting experience. You can find them at  She is also a certified aromatherapist specialising in pregnancy smells.

Mary’s Tips

In early pregnancy essential oils such as lemon and spearmint not only help with nausea but can be used on a tissue to help you cope with smells that may be more unpleasant.

1. Towards the end of your pregnancy use a nice blend of essential oils and create a lovely bubble of relaxation for yourself. Run the bath, add your blend of oils, stick your GentleBirth tracks on (or your favourite music), light some candles and chill. Not only is it pampering, we are creating gorgeous memories which can be triggered by these same smells during labour.

2. However, it’s also important to note that during labour if you are planning on using essential oils in the bath, shower or even as a lovely massage between contractions, add some to a tissue first. Sometimes that blend you loved during your pregnancy is just too intense when labour kicks off due to the changes in our sense of smell.

3. On the other hand do try using essential oils during your labour. Research shows certain oils such as Clary Sage, can help make labour a more comfortable experience and reduce the need for pain medication in women. Our sense of smell plays a huge part in the use of essential oils, triggering a relaxation response.

4. Avoid the use of syntometrine during the third stage of labour as this may impact those sensitive new cells in mums ‘smell’ centre which is an important factor in bonding with your baby. Ask for syntocinon instead if you need an oxytocic drug for this stage.

5. Keep hats off newborns so Mum can smell their head and facilitate bonding.

More like this:

The dos and don’ts of pregnancy
Planning a baby shower
Mental health in pregnancy


Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….


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Ask Tracey

Midwife Tracey Donegan answers your questions about pregnancy and birth

Q When should I have my first pregnancy scan? And how many scans should I get throughout my pregnancy?

Your first scan is known as your dating scan and is routine in all hospitals. Most mums will have this scan at their booking visit, which can be anywhere between 12-18 weeks. The earlier the scan the more accurate it will be. If you have experienced recurrent miscarriages some hospitals will scan you earlier. Contact your antenatal clinic for more information. In Ireland, most women will have two scans in a healthy pregnancy – a dating scan and an anomaly scan at around 20 weeks. However, some units provide a dating scan only. Private scans are also available in most cities and many parents use these services for additional reassurance and to find out the sex of their baby.