That hospital smell: Reason number 25 to have a homebirth

The sense of smell has an intimate and direct control over our emotional and behavioural states

Femidist meme for post 25 of 40 reasons to homebirth

That hospital smell.

Reason number 25 to have a homebirth

In my post 40 reasons to have a homebirth I listed the hospital smell as one reason to consider in choosing a homebirth. Some of those who don’t like hospitals for will cite “That Smell” as the reason. “They just smell funny” “Like sick people”.

Woman holding nose for Femidist post on hospital smellsWe all know it. As soon as you walk past the front entrance. The smell of a hospital hits us like a wave. A combination of antiseptic, medications, cleaning, body fluid and human fear.


The more seasoned of us, who have worked for extended periods of time often don’t even notice it. Furthermore in a strange twist, if we walk into a different hospital it is almost a familiar “Coming Home” that our subconscious recognises.

Scent is a powerful memory trigger. We are all touched by lovely memories when a pleasant scent passes us by. It may be a Rosemary bush reminding us of Nan’s roast lamb, a favourite perfume worn when we were young (Charlie anyone?) or the delicious a campfire smoke of a certain eucalyptus.

Femidist new car smell diffuse for post on homebirth

The smell of a new car is so revered and loved that there is even a fake car deodoriser one can spray in a vehicle to give it that desired new car smell.



Unfortunately a smell can also be the triggers of a negative memory

Smells can sadly trigger a negative emotion. This has been found to be particularly true in persons experiencing post traumatic stress disorder .(PTSD)

In relation to the hospital smell is may be a suppressed memory of visiting a loved one in hospital as a child or having had a procedure done that we connect with pain and fear.

The sense of smell can alert us to danger and for some, subconsciously a hospital may be the danger we fear.

Did you know there is a collection of products marketed to doctors and dentists to revitalise the air in their practices?

Marketing includes promos such as:

Femidist post on hospital smellAmbient scenting has a positive effect on patient perceptions of quality of service, cleanliness and personal wellness. The environment will feel warmer and the patient will feel happy and relaxed. 

There is no hospital smell at a homebirth.

In a homebirth situation the birthing woman is able stay in the environment where the smells are both familiar and reassuring to her.

The power of smell can help also with behaviour. Pairing the distinct smells of massage oil, candles with massage (touch) and music (sound) can give the power of the smell to help manage stress.

Smell was not high on my priority when I chose a homebirth. I must concede, however that after the fact it was wonderful to be able to stay in my safe familiar environment where I could add scent to the bath, burn essential oils of my choice, my own linen, the fireplace and be surrounded by people in normal smelling clothing.

My baby too was born into an environment that would become her norm and not assaulted by chemical, medicines, strangers with their (cough) personal notes. I loved the fact that her home was the first place that she saw, heard and smelt.

References and links

Smells ring bells. Psychology today.

Transported by scent: The psychology of smell, memory and behaviour change


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