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Your baby's sense of smell plays an important part in her development. It's closely connected to her sense of taste, so it influences what she likes to eat. But smell also has a strong connection with your baby's emotions and plays a key role in the bonding process.
When does my baby's sense of smell develop?
Your baby's nose starts to form early in the first trimester of pregnancy. Two tiny nostrils appear just a few weeks later. By 10 weeks, the receptors that your baby will use to detect smells have already formed.
Babies start using their sense of smell while still in the womb. As they breathe and swallow amniotic fluid, they become familiar with its scent.
This is useful because the smell is similar to that of their mother's breast milk, which they'll need soon after birth. Your amniotic fluid also carries the scent and flavors of the food you eat, so your unborn baby will be familiar with the aroma of that fish you ate for dinner, too!
Newborns have a highly developed sense of smell. Though your baby can't yet recognize you by sight, he'll know you by your natural scent, and that's what he'll most want to smell. He'll also be drawn to the scent of your breast milk. These smells are connected to his basic need for comfort and food.
The sense of smell is processed by a part of the brain that also controls memory. It creates strong associations between particular scents and experiences. As a result, years later a scent may trigger a memory for your baby and remind him of a time or feeling from the past.
How does my baby's sense of smell develop?
As a newborn, your baby will be familiar with your unique scent. She can even smell the difference between your breast milk and another mom's.
By recognizing your scent, she feels comforted and secure knowing that she's with you. You can help her distinguish your scent by not wearing highly perfumed or fragranced skin products in the early days.
When you cuddle with your baby and smell each other's scent, you both experience higher levels of the hormone oxytocin. This so-called love hormone helps you bond with your baby.
Your baby is getting used to different smells but can still find strong aromas overpowering. A strong smell can even interfere with his sense of taste. You may notice that he doesn't feed as well as usual if you're wearing a strong perfume.
Your baby is becoming more aware of different people around her. She'll use her sense of smell to tell the difference between the people she knows and strangers. If she feels scared or threatened by a person's smell, she may cry or kick her legs.
When your baby starts solids, he'll use his senses of smell and taste to decide whether he likes a new food. If he enjoys the aroma of food being prepared, he may react by smiling, pointing, or making noises.
His smell preferences may be similar to yours, especially since he got used to the smells of some of your favorite foods while in the womb.
By age 10 months or so, your baby may be less eager to try different foods. Her sense of smell helps her decide what she definitely doesn't like. If she doesn't like the smell, she'll let you know!
Your child's sense of smell will continue to develop until she's around 8 years old.
Can particular smells soothe my baby?
Yes. Familiar smells, especially those of Mom or Dad, can be very comforting for your baby.
As well as being able to tell when you're nearby, he can sense whether he's in his stroller, the car, or a particular room at home just by using his sense of smell. If your baby needs soothing, being in a favorite place with familiar smells can help calm him down.
A much-loved toy or blanket also develops a scent that can be reassuring for your baby. That's why he may seem unhappy if you wash it, however desperately you think it needs cleaning!
The smell of natural remedies, such as scented essential oils, may also calm your baby. One study found that babies with colic responded well to a massage with lavender oil and appeared to find it soothing. However, it's not clear from the research whether it was the massage or the lavender oil that had a calming effect.
Another study found that aromatherapy using lavender and sweet almond oil reduced stress in premature babies.
It's important to be careful when using essential oils not to put them directly on your baby's skin. Some oils can be harmful and babies and children can be extra sensitive to their effects.
Alternatively, put a few drops of oil in a diffuser and keep it safely out of your baby's reach. The scent of the oil will gradually be released in your home. Try different essential oils and see which your baby responds to and which he seems to find soothing.