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What’s in a Scent?

They say the nose knows. That couldn’t be truer for your newborn. Their sense of smell is not just incredibly strong, but it helps them learn about people and places, and guides the development of their other senses.

Their noses may be tiny (and adorable!), but they are quite powerful! Learn more below.

Babies have a very strong sense of smell.

Babies are born with all senses, but they vary in strength. Their sense of smell is one of the strongest, and will continue to get stronger for the first 8 years of their life. It’s also an essential sense to help them feel comforted and promote the development of their other senses, especially taste and vision.

Their sense of smell develops in the womb.

For baby, their sense of smell begins to develop before they’re even born. Nostrils form in the first trimester, and scent receptors form by the second trimester. In the womb, baby breathes in their mother’s amniotic fluid, which helps them to become familiar with scent—specifically, their mother’s scent.

They recognize people, places and things by their scent.

Baby’s vision is still developing after birth, so they recognize people and places by their scent. That means that when you hold your baby or enter their room, they may recognize you not by how you look, but how you smell. When you bring them to their favorite place (their room, the car, etc.), or give them their favorite toy, they recognize it by their sense of smell.

If you mask your scent, they may not feel as comforted by you. If you can, use the same shampoo and deodorant around your baby. Additionally, as they meet new people, they may become upset if they don’t like a certain scent.

Sense of smell is closely tied to memory.

Just as they recognize people and places by their scent, they also remember those scents for a while. Therefore, children may recognize something years later not by the look or sound of it, but the smell.

Sense of smell spurs development of taste.

While babies do have taste buds at birth, they are strengthened by their ability to distinguish different scents.

You can try baby aromatherapy—but it’s not scientifically proven to work.

Some believe that scents like lavender, vanilla and almond oil can relax baby, but there’s no medical basis for aromatherapy with babies.