In an interview with Refinery29, actress Amanda Seyfried — who is carrying her first child with fiancé Thomas Sadoski — reveals an unusual pregnancy symptom. “I can smell electricity. I swear to God I can smell the TV,” she says. “There’s this static-y, metal-y scent. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
Well, yes, Amanda, a lot of moms do know what you’re talking about. Maybe not electricity, but the olfactory senses in pregnant women do tend to get kicked up a notch. Or 20.
I asked a few of my moms groups if they had similar experiences with scent. (Yes: I’m in several moms groups. I’m a joiner.) New mom Lauren Kahn told me she actually had to alter her makeup regimen while pregnant. “I didn’t even know that mascara had a smell before.” And Johanna Heredia could smell dust. “It drove me crazy when I couldn’t get the smell out of my nose,” she says. So Heredia replaced her carpets with hardwood floors. As one does.
Surprisingly, the smell of water is a common offender for expectant mothers. “Tap water smelled like raw eggs to me,” my pal Ansook Fordyce tells me of her recent pregnancy. Sarah Montgomery agrees; “I couldn’t stand the smell of our running water when I was pregnant with my second.” Charlotte Mantooth was also displeased by the scent of H2O: “Every time I got into my shower, my hard water smelled like very strong freshly peeled potatoes.”
Like Montgomery’s water-to-potatoes, other common scents might take on odd, less-pleasing smells. “My office kitchen smelled like an airplane to me and only me,” says Diane Metzger. “Coffee smelled like cat pee,” shares Tarah Jo Lutz. That’s an unfortunate one. Although if you’re trying to avoid caffeine, perhaps it’s helpful if sweet, sweet coffee masquerades as animal urine.
“I could smell ink coming out of the pens I was using,” says Katie Ward of her odd olfactory senses. “Not Sharpies or anything particularly pungent. Just regular ink. I felt like a superhero.”
More commonly, pregnant women’s sense of smell is just heightened. Sometimes extremely heightened. Gisele Rocha had been driving the same freeway for a year, but “all of a sudden when passing a certain street, I would smell fried onions,” she explains. “I started to smell it even before I knew I was pregnant!” As it turns out, there was a taco shop emitting the scent of fried onions. That Rocha could smell from inside her car. On the freeway.
A newfound hypersensitivity to scent can do horrible things to a hormonal woman. “The day before I found out I was pregnant, I threw an In-N-Out burger out the car window,” confesses Christy Fiorilli-Ellington. “It just smelled so strong and awful to me.” Not the double-double! Some pregnant women would’ve killed for that burger.
Joanna Suhl found herself in an alternate universe where “the smell of chocolate was the worst thing ever and cigarettes smelled delicious.” Then there’s Glennis McCarthy, who worked at a restaurant when she was pregnant and found a disgusting smell irresistible. “I loved the smell of the garbage at the end of the night,” she admits. Christiana Sanders recalls her love for boxes: “I started smelling cardboard, but I liked it.” Brittany Nicol couldn’t even drive thanks to her sense of smell! “I had a new car that I was unable to drive because the new car smell made me vomit,” says Nicol. “When I’m not pregnant, it’s my favorite smell!”
Other senses can be affected too. “The sight of things makes me ‘smell’ it and it makes me sick to my stomach,” says Hope Alfaro. Just the recollection of a scent makes her queasy! That’s harsh.
But it’s not all animal carcasses and peeled potatoes. Maybe you gain a new “skill” for your pregnancy trouble. “I never knew ‘asparagus pee’ was a thing,” says Dana Crosby McNamee. “All of a sudden during my second pregnancy I could smell it, and didn’t know what it was! My husband filled me in. Weirdly enough, I can now still smell it and my daughter is a year and a half old! I guess I’m stuck with this new ability.”
When Maggie Grady Wood was pregnant, she noticed she could smell when people were sick. “Smells kinda… warm?” she describes the scent of illness. “And dusty? Like fire but not wood smoke.” She’s no longer pregnant, but Maggie still has this odd ability to diagnose. “It’s kinda handy ‘cause I can smell if I’m starting to get sick,” she says.
And then there are things you didn’t know you could smell, but turns out are super-gross. “I could smell when people need to eat,” reveals Marilyn Vincent of her preggo ability. “Like their gastric juices. It was more than awful.” Sounds like it!
Moira McMahon Leeper had a simple epiphany: “I smelled everything and realized that most people smell like old farts all the time.” Pretty much. The reason for all the freaky smells during pregnancy? That common culprit: hormones. Specifically, estrogen increases when you’re expecting, which causes scents to be perceived as stronger than they actually are. And there may be an evolutionary reason for an increased irritation to smells. According to the podcast The Naked Scientists, “…it’s thought that there is some evolutionary advantage here in that it’s necessary for the mother to be very careful what she ingests, not to ingest toxins and other poisons…” So you’re smelling those potatoes, dead animals and farts for a good reason, ladies! The next time you go to take a bite of your burger and suddenly have the urge to throw it out the window, just remember: That move may have kept your cavewoman ancestors alive.