Smelling Rubbing Alcohol While Pregnant: Is It Safe?

Exposure to rubbing alcohol while pregnant does not pose any harmful effect on the baby. Now that alcohol is a necessity during the pandemic, moms worry about inhaling it occasionally. But there is no reason to, according to experts. Using it on your skin will also not cause any hazard to the developing fetus.

What moms should avoid, however, is intentionally smelling it for a long period. Severe and long exposure to rubbing alcohol can impact the development of the growing baby.

Using rubbing alcohol is allowed but should be in moderation. Intense inhalation of it can harm not only the baby but also the expecting mother. On a separate note, medical professionals are continuously warning mothers about the danger of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Accordingly, no amount of alcoholic drink is safe for the fetus. It can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome with irreversible effects on the child’s brain and growth. 

What is rubbing alcohol?

A woman is getting some rubbing alcohol out of a pump dispenser to sanitize her hands.

Rubbing alcohol is an antiseptic for surface disinfection. It is widely popular in health settings or household cleaning. There are three classifications of rubbing alcohol: isopropyl, methyl, and ethyl alcohol. The most common among them is isopropyl. 

During the onslaught of COVID-19, rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizers became a basic necessity.

People use them mostly for disinfecting things and hand sanitizing. And because they are an essential weapon against virus spread, expecting moms worry about its effect on the unborn child.

Some moms are also wary about using it on their skin because the topicals that you use get absorbed into the bloodstream. Everything that enters the mother’s system also passes into the umbilical cord.

Thus, many moms worry about rubbing alcohol vapor that permeates their skin. The good news is that a negligible amount of it is tolerable and unlikely to affect fetal development.

Adverse Effects of Rubbing Alcohol

Pregnant or not, intense inhalation of rubbing alcohol can cause harmful effects on the body.

According to Poison Control, even its inhalation is toxic. That is why it is advisable to use it in a well-ventilated area.

A pregnant woman is feeling nausea, even more so after having smelled rubbing alcohol recently.

The possible side effect of inhaling and high exposure to rubbing alcohol include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Nose and throat irritation
  • Confusion and loss of coordination
  • Slow breathing
  • Death

Why are some pregnant women addicted to the rubbing alcohol smell?

Post-operative care sometimes uses isopropyl alcohol to relieve nausea and vomiting in patients. It is deemed effective in soothing the senses after surgery. But they do not always recommend this as nausea relief in pregnant women. 

There are instances when a mom’s pregnancy cravings excite her to the smell of alcohol. Olfactory craving happens when she gets obsessed with the smell of a certain thing. But it would usually go away without treatment.

If you fancy rubbing alcohol while expecting, it is best to ward off it. It is okay to pop an alcohol swab in your nose if you want to block out an unpleasant smell.

Just make sure not to do it daily and for long periods. Prolonged inhalation of a large amount of alcohol can still harm your unborn one.

How to ditch the rubbing alcohol smell craving?

The astringent smell of rubbing alcohol is indeed satisfying to the nose. But, you need to prioritize your baby’s health over it. That is why you will need a distraction, but only by sniffing the good stuff.

If you are relying on alcohol swabs for your nausea, you may try other healthier options.  

Your doctor may recommend anti-nausea pills if you are having a rough time. You can also try lemon, ginger, or mint to sniff on.

Grab the smell of fruits that will make you feel better. You may also suck on chewing gum or peppermint candy to relieve your olfactory craving.


Smelling rubbing alcohol while pregnant is a normal occurrence that a woman will go through during her pregnancy. Your hormones mostly dictate the taste and the smell that your nose wants.

While smelling alcohol in an insignificant amount is harmless, prolonged use may have adverse effects. The basic rule in pregnancy craving is to always take things in moderation.

Watch what you eat and what you sniff, and never overdo it.

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Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She experienced handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also trained in labor rooms and pediatric wards while in nursing school - helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.

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