Hubby says I have a nose like a bloodhound. It’s one of my secret skills! Did you know, though, that even when babies are very, very young, their sense of smell is quite developed?
A baby’s nose starts to form around the 7th week 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 fetuses breathe and swallow amniotic fluid, they become familiar with its scent. That smell of amniotic fluid is similar to that of the mother's breastmilk. It also carries the scent and flavors of the food the mothers eat. In fact, toward the end of pregnancy, fetuses can swallow almost a liter of amniotic fluid a day, providing them with a lot of exposure to whatever flavors their mother recently tasted.
Fun fact: Once he was well into eating solids, it became apparent my son's favorite foods were the foods I craved while pregnant. Apparently, this is not uncommon. According to Julie Mennella, of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia. “What the mother eats, a lot of [the flavors]—the garlic, vanilla, carrot, anise, a whole host of different flavors—are transmitted through the bloodstream and flavor amniotic fluid … If a baby has experienced a flavor in utero or in breastmilk, they prefer it more."
As newborns, babies have highly sensitive senses of smell. They use it to get to know their parents. Though your newborn can't yet recognize you by sight, within days of birth, your baby will know you by your natural scent as well as the scent of your breastmilk. These smells are connected to his or her basic need for comfort and food. Researchers have found that 3-day-old infants are able to discriminate their mom's milk from someone else's by its smell. That scent becomes imprinted on their brains and stays as they grow. Watch this cool video “A Unique Connection” to witness the magic for yourself.
When you cuddle your baby, and you can smell each other's scent, both of you experience higher levels of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is often referred to as the cuddle or love hormone. It helps with the bonding process. Which leads me to this well-intentioned tip: avoid strong smells like fabric softener, perfume, and shampoos to help your newborn baby learn to recognize your scent. Strong scents can also overwhelm older babies and interfere with their sense of taste (and feeding).
Babies's senses of smell continue to develop until they are around eight years old. By three months, babies use their sense of smell to identify the people he knows and distinguish strangers. Once babies start eating solid foods (usually around 6 months), they use their sense of smell to identify flavors and foods they like. By around 10 months, their sense of smell help them decide what they definitely doesn’t like. If they aren't keen on the smell, they let you know! And so it goes.