Smelling Rubbing Alcohol While Pregnant – Advice

It’s not uncommon for pregnant people to crave the smell of rubbing alcohol or consider sniffing it to alleviate the symptoms of morning sickness. You may have even heard people talk about the uses of smelling this substance when it comes to struggles with first trimester nausea and vomiting. 

But smelling or inhaling rubbing alcohol – especially in excess – can pose dangers to both you and your unborn baby. In worst-case scenarios, doing so may lead to miscarriage or a complicated premature birth.

To learn more about the associated risks of sniffing rubbing alcohol while pregnant, keep reading. In this guide, we’re unpacking the reasons why you might crave the smell of rubbing alcohol while pregnant and whether or not it actually soothes the nausea associated with morning sickness.

Smelling Rubbing Alcohol While Pregnant

Can Rubbing Alcohol Affect The Baby?

Rubbing alcohol is a solvent substance, meaning that if you breathe it in while pregnant, it can adversely affect your unborn baby. Especially within the first trimester of pregnancy, and leading up to the 20th week, inhaling rubbing alcohol or sniffing it could lead to miscarriage. 

It may also cause issues with stunted growth of the unborn baby, physical birth defects, and/or premature birth. Further, according to the website for Hospital Infection Control ; Prevention, it is not fully known whether or not the use of rubbing alcohol-based products like hand sanitizers exposes a pregnant person to too much alcohol in the bloodstream. 

That said, birth defects and developmental disabilities often form due to maternal alcohol ingestion (which may include smelling rubbing alcohol). Therefore, it’s best to stay away from rubbing alcohol as much as possible while pregnant. 

It’s important to note that exposure to solvents like rubbing alcohol may even occur without you realizing it – not just when you have the craving to sniff it. You can inhale rubbing alcohol fumes when you come into contact with paint stripping products, certain paint products, and even when you or someone near you is applying an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to their hands. 

Does Smelling Rubbing Alcohol Help With Pregnancy Nausea?

There are a lot of theories floating around that pregnant individuals can sniff rubbing alcohol in order to soothe the symptoms of morning sickness. This first trimester phenomenon can cause a lot of discomfort, but it’s important to note that pregnant people should avoid the inhalation of solvents as much as possible. 

Studies through Can Fam Physician have shown that in trials with non-pregnant adults who sniffed isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), mild-moderate nausea and vomiting symptoms improved. But the same can’t necessarily be said for adults who are pregnant, since it’s not advised for these individuals to sniff/inhale rubbing alcohol at all. 

So, although it may be tempting to crave the smell of rubbing alcohol or want to try it to soothe morning sickness nausea, it’s not a good idea. It’s also worth noting that doing so poses not only risks to your baby, but to yourself as well. Inhaling solvents can lead to issues with cognitive functioning, breathing difficulties, and other ailments. 

Is it normal to crave smells during pregnancy?  

Cravings are a well-noted symptom of pregnancy. We’ve all heard the stories of pregnant people craving strange foods while pregnant that they wouldn’t otherwise eat. Or perhaps there’s that one particular food that a pregnant person can handle on a morning sickness stomach that they crave on a regular basis. 

In some cases, though, pregnancy can even cause one to crave certain smells or aromas. For example, some pregnant individuals will crave the smell of rubbing alcohol. This could be an anomalous craving of pregnancy, or it could be due to the smell cravings that sometimes arise in people with iron deficiencies. 

And while these cravings are completely normal, you shouldn’t act on the craving to smell or inhale solvents like alcohol. Doing so will only put you and your baby at risk of numerous health problems. 

Furthermore, if you suspect that your smell cravings are due to a deficiency of some kind, it’s worth speaking to your doctor to see if you could benefit from a supplement or other pregnancy-appropriate treatment. Talk to them before making any decisions. 

Adverse Effects of Rubbing Alcohol 

There’s a myriad of negative things that can happen to a person when sniffing or inhaling rubbing alcohol. These adverse effects can even appear due to prolonged or excessive exposure through the skin – such as when using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, etc. 

Below are some of the ways that exposure to rubbing alcohol can negatively affect both a pregnant person and their unborn baby. 

Birth Defects

Smelling/inhaling rubbing alcohol while pregnant puts your baby at risk of several birth defects and developmental problems, more often in extreme cases of inhalant abuse. These can include, but may not be limited to:

  • Symptoms similar to those seen in fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Small size at the time of birth 
  • Craniofacial abnormalities
  • Deficits in motor skills
  • Deficits in speech skills
  • Deficits in cognitive skills


Especially when the solvents are inhaled – whether accidentally or not – in the first trimester of pregnancy, extreme adverse effects may include miscarraige. A miscarriage – also known as a spontaneous abortion – refers to the sudden loss of pregnancy prior to the 20th week of the pregnancy. 

Because exposure to alcohol via the pregnant person’s rubbing alcohol inhalation interferes with the baby’s development in the womb, it can lead to miscarriage, which is sometimes associated with physical pain symptoms. 

Effects on Pregnant Individuals

The direct effects of a pregnant person inhaling rubbing alcohol may include the following:

  • Irritation to the throat and/or nose
  • Burning sensations on the skin and/or eyes
  • Itching, dryness, redness, or rashes
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Liver or kidney damage
  • Headaches
  • Unconsciousness
  • Confusion
  • Death in serious cases
  • Difficulty breathing/respiratory problems
  • Nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low body temperature
  • Stomach pain
  • Tachycardia

Always speak to your healthcare provider to find out what you can do to avoid inhalation of rubbing alcohol and other harmful solvents that you may have around the house. 

Final Thoughts

It is important to be careful with what you put into your body while pregnant. Many women are not sure if smelling rubbing alcohol is safe or not. Rubbing alcohol is a type of alcohol that is used as a solvent and antiseptic. It is made up of ethanol and water. When consumed, ethanol is broken down into acetaldehyde and carbon dioxide. Acetaldehyde is known to be a harmful chemical that can cause birth defects. Smelling rubbing alcohol while pregnant is not advised.