What Happens to a Pregnant Body that No One Wants to Talk About

Pregnancy changes your skin, your hair, your nails, and even seemingly your brain. You knew that your belly would expand, you’d feel more tired than usual, and you might throw up a few times as your pregnancy progressed. But you may not have expected some of the other physical changes.

Ob-gyn Dr. Michele Hakakha says, “Many things happen to a woman’s body when she becomes pregnant, and most are shocking: hair growth on your belly, belching and constipation, increased vaginal discharge, and hemorrhoids, to name a few.” Hakakha says, “These aren’t things that a woman usually talks about. So it’s no wonder there’s a bit of embarrassment.”

Around 65 percent of women report they have experienced vaginal odor throughout their pregnancies. If we as a community discuss even the most embarrassing side effects of pregnancy, we can destigmatize the embarrassment and help find answers and prevention methods. A strong vaginal odor during pregnancy may be due to one of several reasons such as altered pH balance, sweat, infections, hormonal and dietary changes, etc. If the cause is not a medical condition, then the odor will disappear after the baby is born. Even in women who are not pregnant, sweat and diet changes could produce strong odors in the vagina.

It is important to feel comfortable enough to tell your doctor if you experience this so you can rule out a yeast infection. Some infections, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), can also cause the vagina to smell odd or unpleasant. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal infection in pregnant women and is caused by an imbalance of bacteria living in your vagina. With BV, your vaginal odor is most apparent after sex. Doctors are unsure of what causes this bacterial imbalance, but you can reduce your chances of getting BV by practicing safe sex, not smoking, and not douching. It is very important if you sense something out of the ordinary to tell your doctor about it as soon as possible.

In most cases, an unusual ammonia-like vaginal smell during pregnancy is caused by changes in urine. This can be due to lifestyle factors, such as dietary preferences, dehydration, and supplement use. What you eat and drink during pregnancy can affect the smell of your urine. Sometimes, after using the restroom, small amounts of urine can remain on the outside of the vagina, causing it to take on the smell of urine.

In some instances, it may just be your increased sense of smell. Some pregnant women are more sensitive to certain smells, even in trace amounts. This heightened sense of smell is called hyperosmia. Ammonia is found naturally in the urine but does not usually give off a strong smell. However, a pregnant woman may become more aware of a faint smell of ammonia that she did not previously notice. Some researchers think women’s nasal sensitivity increases during pregnancy to trigger nausea and vomiting, helping the mother to avoid digesting toxins that may harm the fetus, especially during the first few months of pregnancy.

Additionally, the daily intake of increased vitamins and supplements can be causing different urine and vaginal smells as well. Pregnant women should always consult a doctor before taking new vitamins or supplements. It is often best to increase the daily intake of foods rich in nutrients such as calcium, iron, and folic acid. Avoiding having to take unnecessary supplements can help reduce the risk of side effects and overdose.

Vaginal odor and smelly discharges can be treated and prevented in the following ways:

  1. Stay Clean and Dry. Ensure that the vagina is as clean and dry as possible. Shower more frequently and cleanse the vagina with lukewarm water and a mild soap or doctor prescribed feminine hygiene wash. Keep the pubic hair short and neat.
  2. Avoid Cosmetics. Avoid cosmetics such as scented feminine sprays, vaginal wipes, etc. Avoid any products like soaps that are harsh on the skin as they will strip away the natural bacteria living in the vagina, leaving it vulnerable to infections.
  3. Wear Cotton Underwear. Avoid synthetic material and use only soft cotton underwear that allows the skin down there to breathe and absorbs excess sweat.
  4. Try Changing Your Diet. Try changing your diet to include a lot of fruits and vegetables suited for pregnancy. Avoid too many spices and excess garlic. This may alter the smell of sweat and reduce vaginal odor.
  5. Use Doctor Prescribed Medication. In case an infection is causing the vaginal odor, consult a doctor and use prescribed antibiotics to eliminate the infection.
Shoshi S.
Shoshi is a graduate from Stern College for Women in New York City. Her areas of interest include policy, non-profit organizations, and administration. During winter 2018, she was a White House intern. Shoshi has also interned at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and at Save the Children in New York. As a millennial, Shoshi brings a young and fresh perspective to the worlds of pregnancy and lactation.

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