I am ten weeks pregnant and I’m finding that my husband’s odor has become nearly intolerable to me. I don’t know what it is but sometimes it makes me feel physically ill and I have to step back. When he drinks (even one cocktail) it’s even worse, but just his regular smell is pretty gross to me. Is this normal? How will I live with the man for nine months? I can’t bear to tell him about it, but it’s definitely starting to affect how I relate to him. Help! – Holding My Nose
Increased sense of smell in early pregnancy is caused by a rise in the hormone estrodiol (an estrogen). This hormone creates a hypersensitivity to smell, and occasionally, distorted or phantom smells. There’s a theory that these super smelling abilities are a way to keep pregnant women away from dangerous food or chemical toxins during the early, vulnerable stage of development. The fact that some of the things that smell bad to pregnant women are also things that aren’t particularly healthy (coffee, alcohol, smoke) is sometimes used to illustrate this theory. It’s not clear whether the connection is that direct, as all kinds of strong smells can be repugnant to pregnant women, toxic or not.
Does one’s husband fall within the range of things that might be dangerous to the fetus? Hmm. Sensitivity to smell is also related to morning sickness – in a 2000 study at Stanford University, women cited strong odors as a frequent nausea trigger. Any pregnant woman who’s ever retched at the smell of fried onions (or for that matter, her husband) will find this association rather obvious.
Your situation is, sadly, incredibly common – and, while rather a bizarre experience, totally normal. When we were researching our book we heard from many pregnant women who went green at even the slightest whiff of their spouse. One woman told us the smell was so intolerable she had to open all the windows in the middle of a blizzard. The good news is that for many, this is a first trimester problem. Super smelling abilities and morning sickness tend to ease up after about thirteen weeks. But for a lucky few, the situation can linger.
You can try to mask outside smells by wearing some of your own. We’ve found that lemon is usually tolerable, but this is your call. Preference for smells, as well as foods, in pregnancy, is hugely personal. So if there’s any smell you actually like, try putting a dab of it under your nose. You can also chew gum or suck on candy – again lemon drops can be good or ginger, which helps with nausea.
You can also ask that your husband go that extra mile in the hygiene department: showers upon returning from work or going to bed; excessive tooth brushing; mints; and mild, non-scented deodorant (shelve the Drakkar till the baby is born). Of course this would require actually communicating with him about the situation. And on that topic, we definitely advise telling him what’s going on, especially if it lasts longer than a couple more weeks. It’s not great news for him. It’s no fun for you. But the suffering quietly approach can lead to all kinds of resentment. And it’s not a great way to get started on the whole process of pregnancy, birth and parenthood.
You don’t have to be cruel. A direct, simple statement about some of the less desirable effects of hormones in pregnancy should do the trick. Humor can really help put things in perspective. Remember, this is bigger than both of you: It’s evolution! It’s a pain right now. Many changes are going to happen over the course of the next year or so; consider this annoying hurdle an introductory challenge and work through it together. You are not heading for couple’s therapy over this one; maybe just couple’s aromatherapy.
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