I can’t say that I ever tried breathing in rubbing alcohol while pregnant. Once while I was not pregnant, I felt queasy and held my nose briefly over a Q-tip I’d dunked into rubbing alcohol.
I was amazed that it helped me regain my bearings so quickly.
Sniffing alcohol for nausea while pregnant may seem like a good idea then. But the urge to sniff rubbing alcohol while pregnant is something else that tends to wash over many moms-to-be. Here’s what you should know to clear up this mystery so you and your baby can stay healthy and safe.
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Is rubbing alcohol safe for pregnancy?
Well, yes and no. The key is not to smell too much of it at once. For example, if you pour a bowl of rubbing alcohol out and hold your head over it for more than 5 minutes, that’s not a good idea. But with small amounts, like on a cotton pad, wipe, or cotton swab, sniffing it briefly is totally fine.
Why you may crave the smell of rubbing alcohol during your pregnancy
Well, now that’s a different one. But it’s not uncommon at all. Pregnancy does some weird things to you, and cravings will be one of them. For me, it was the craving for my food nemesis, tomatoes. I was not too fond of those things until I became pregnant.
For many pregnant women, though, you may crave something strange, like something that isn’t food. Should you crave that rubbing alcohol smell, that’s a condition called desiderosmia.
It’s nothing to panic about, but you may want to let your doctor know. It usually indicates you have an iron deficiency. You’ll want to check to be sure and find out the best way to get balance with your iron levels.
If you didn’t crave it before trying to sniff it, though, you may be relieved from nausea and find it a helpful tool when handling morning sickness. This will be fine as long as you don’t expose yourself to the odor for too long.
Can smells of alcohol affect pregnancy?
The FDA cautions that alcohol smells could pose a bit of risk to pregnant women and their babies growing inside of them. It’s a bit more problematic for those in regards to hand hygiene, though.
This is why the FDA urged a review of hospital antiseptics in 2015. With the constant use of hand sanitizer at every turn, you may be worried that something will happen to you or your baby, which is a legitimate concern.
However, the squabble about alcohol that has endured between the FDA and CDC really is more centered on ingestion of alcohol rather than the odor of alcohol. Even those that are not pregnant shouldn’t be sitting there smelling rubbing alcohol fumes for a prolonged period. But brief exposure to a small amount of the smell of rubbing alcohol should be just fine.
Of course, when it comes to your concerns and peace of mind, speak to your doctor about this on your next visit. They will let you know if they think it is a good idea.
As for smelling alcohol, like the kind in a drink, that’s likely not a good idea either. Though it’s the drinking of it, that’s far worse. In both my pregnancies, the smell of any alcoholic beverage made me want to throw up, so it all worked out well, I guess!
Is ethyl alcohol hand sanitizer safe when you’re pregnant?
Smelling hand sanitizer while pregnant is likely unavoidable in today’s world as the pandemic has reshaped it. However, it’s likely ok if you’re not sitting over it sniffing away for a long time.
The FDA warns that you may get a headache, nausea, or feel dizzy after applying hand sanitizer, thanks to the vapors. If you notice any of these symptoms after smelling hand sanitizer while pregnant, discontinue using that product and let your doctor know.
Does smelling rubbing alcohol help with pregnancy nausea?
Rubbing alcohol can help relieve nausea for anyone, even if you’re not pregnant. However, it can be wonderfully effective for pregnant women dealing with morning sickness.
Science Daily mentions a study of patients with nausea in the ER. For the patients that sniffed pads that were saturated with rubbing alcohol, they were twice as likely to be relieved of their symptoms.
One theory is that since rubbing alcohol has such a strong smell, it can block out whatever smell was making you queasy and hence, stop nausea.
What you can do instead
If you keep craving the smell of rubbing alcohol, it’s important to have your doctor check things out and take their suggestions for getting enough iron in your diet.
If you want to curb that horrible, barfy morning sickness feeling safe, try these sniff tricks:
- Pick essential oils
While the FDA doesn’t regulate them, and you need to be careful which ones you pick, safe for pregnancy essential oils may help you eliminate your queasiness. Lavender oil has the most science behind it, and it smells pretty darned good, but that link will help you see what is good to use and what you should avoid.
- Go for vinegar
Vinegar is a safe choice all around and has an equally strong smell compared to rubbing alcohol. However, please try it at home because a few friends of mine smelled vinegar, which made them want to throw up. Other friends thought it was a great way to eliminate the morning sickness.
- Try alcohol wipes
Sniffing alcohol pads while pregnant is considered much safer. The reason? It’s less concentrated, so you get the smell but in a smaller amount. These are also great for motion sickness, something I’ve taken with me to theme parks when the girls were bigger so that I wouldn’t ruin the fun.
And if sniffing something doesn’t shake you out of your nausea, you can always try ginger (in tea or those ginger candies) or eating citrus fruit to see if that helps.
Bottom line: minimize your rubbing alcohol exposure to be on the safe side and just know that morning sickness tends to go away after that first trimester.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs. She loves eating too much sushi, exercise, and jamming out on her Fender.