Q: I just found out I’m pregnant, and virtually everything I smell makes me sick to my stomach. Is it all in my head?
A: The jury’s out on this one. While many women say their sense of smell is much stronger when they’re pregnant, research hasn’t confirmed an actual heightened olfactory sense. “There have been several studies on this, and many are conflicting,” says Myra Wick, M.D., Ph.D., an obstetrician at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a co-editor of the Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy (Good Books). “That said, there’s definitely at least a perception among pregnant women of an altered sense of smell.” She adds that between two-thirds and three-fourths of women report an increase in sensitivity, especially in early pregnancy.
While there has been much speculation about what might cause this potential increase, no one knows for certain. Some suggest an aversion to smells might be a protective mechanism harking back to our caveperson days (if something is a potential risk—spoiled meat, say—and the smell makes you sick, you’ll avoid it). Along the same lines, there may be cognitive component as well: “You know that gasoline fumes aren’t good for you,” Wick says, “so perhaps that makes you perceive a stronger smell.”
So, while taking some small comfort in the fact that you’re not alone, try to steer clear of the offenders … and know that your mind (and body) may very well be trying to protect that little bean growing inside you.