Awakening the Senses: Pregnancy Body Changes

By Ann Douglas

It's not just your curves that are being redefined by the experience of being pregnant. The hormonal changes of pregnancy are awakening your senses in powerful new ways. Your senses of taste and smell are much sharper than ever before, and your body is much more sensitive to touch. Here's what you need to know to make the most of these powerful sensory changes during pregnancy.

Taste: It's a classic early pregnancy conundrum: you find yourself unable to stomach foods you generally adore because those foods suddenly taste bitter or metallic to you. Researchers theorize that there may be a method to Mother Nature's madness—a reason you've lost your taste for wine or blue cheese. Because your less-than-adventurous appetite encourages you to stick with a limited number of fairly bland foods, you're less likely to eat foods that could put your baby at risk. As you head into the second and third trimesters, you'll likely find that your food aversions are replaced by a craving for sour and bitter foods—Mother Nature's way of encouraging you to expand your food repertoire again and get with the veggie program. Once your stomach stops feeling so queasy and your appetite starts to rebound, you may actually see your changing palate as an opportunity to try new food combos (and, no, I'm not talking about the oh-so-cliché pickles and ice cream).  Treat yourself to a meal out in a restaurant specializing in out-of-the-ordinary cuisine or see if someone special will pamper you with a homemade meal that leaves you feeling nurtured inside and out.

Scent: The same pregnancy hormones that sharpen your sense of taste also boost your sense of smell. While this sounds lovely in principle, it can be a little overwhelming in practice. Even the most pleasant fragrances, like your favorite perfume, can become overpowering. If nausea is a problem, lighten up on the scent front or go fragrance-free until you're feeling better. If you find other people's fragrances hard to tolerate, carry around a slice of lemon or a piece of ginger-root in a bag—or a cloth that has been infused with lemon or ginger aromatherapy oils—so that you can immerse yourself in a pregnancy-friendly scent whenever the need arises.

Touch: Pregnancy massage could be just what the doctor—or midwife—ordered: a way to manage some of the more common pregnancy discomforts and to pamper yourself at the same time. It can help to reduce stress, improve your mood, decrease pain, lower the rate of obstetrical complications, and improve the health of your developing baby. A registered massage therapist (RMT) can design a massage therapy program that's safe and effective for you and your baby. Your increased sensitivity to touch may mean that you prefer a different amount of pressure than usual while you're being massaged. If you find the amount of pressure that your massage therapist is using too light or too heavy, let the therapist know so that she can adjust the amount of pressure accordingly. Your sex life can also be impacted by your body's heightened sensitivity to touch. Some women find the increased blood flow to the breasts and the genital region stimulating, others find it irritating. Once again, it's important to communicate your needs to your partner. The more clearly you communicate how and where you like being touched, the more you'll enjoy the sensual side of pregnancy.

Sight: This one has to be seen to be believed—literally. The hormonal changes of pregnancy actually change the shape of your eyeballs, something that can cause you to become increasingly nearsighted and that can affect how well your contact lenses fit. At the same time, rising levels of estrogen can lead to a condition called dry eye, which makes your eyes blurring, itching, and increasingly sensitive to light. Don't just assume your eye problems are par for the pregnancy course, however. Vision problems can also be a symptoms of other health and visions problems, so you'll definitely want to check things out with your doctor or midwife.

Hearing: You're unlikely to notice your ears growing bigger (like some pregnant Pinocchio), but, once your baby arrives, you can expect your hearing to become much more acute. The reason is obvious: you need to be tuned into your baby's unique cry. After all, it would be overkill to activate the maternal emergency response system every time a baby cried on TV and poor design in terms of the survival of the species if you were to put off responding to your baby until your favourite TV show was over. As always, Mother Nature has her act together. She really is a sense-ible gal.


Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting, including The Mother of All Pregnancy Books.