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Baby's sense of smell

Baby's sense of smell

When it comes to infant sensory development, it is the sense of smell that is likely to be the most developed sense when your baby is born. Quite quickly, your newborn will recognize and prefer their Mum's scent, especially her breast milk

Since a newborn's eyes can only focus within 10 inches, they depend on their sense of smell to find Mum or Dad. Actually, infants are so attracted to their Mom's most natural, unadorned smell, that skipping a shower or two will be most appreciated by your new babe.

If you're wondering which scents your baby might enjoy most besides the smell of its Mum and Dad, research has found that sweet-smelling scents like jasmine, vanilla, camomile, mandarin, light citrus, and lavender are most enjoyed by newborns.

If you're wondering which scents your baby might enjoy most besides the smell of its Mum and Dad, research has found that sweet-smelling scents like jasmine, vanilla, camomile, mandarin, light citrus, and lavender are most enjoyed by newborns.

You can encourage baby sense of smell by infusing these scents into the home using essential oil aromatherapy candles. Try to avoid products with artificial ingredients and synthetic aromas like those found in fragrances, cosmetics, personal care products, and many air-freshening sprays, candles and oils.

These products are alcohol-based, and they will off-gas harmful and sometimes toxic chemicals including formaldehyde, benzene, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and more. Strong odours from heavy perfumes and other artificially-scented products can irritate, confuse, or even cause a newborn baby with mother to lose their appetite.

Instead, consider using Cradle & Tonic body wash, skin oil, and skin balm for sore nipples and dry lips, skin, and cuticles made with natural ingredients that have natural scents like aloe vera, coconut and olive oils, cocoa and shea. These personal care products for new Mums contain nuanced, sweet-smelling, natural odours that can be soothing and calming for young babes.

The senses of a baby

A baby bonds with its parents and siblings by using its 5 senses - touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing. That's why any contact you make with your newborn is a learning experience. Stroking a baby's back, allowing the baby to lay on the Mum, talking to the newborn, and making sure you are in his or her line of sight are all teaching moments that improve the baby senses.

Here is how your baby's sense of smell and other senses develop as the child grows.

Smell and taste

The baby sense of smell is so keen, that even in the womb they can smell the odours of the foods you eat and the aromas you are inhaling because these odours pass directly through the mother's amniotic fluid. After birthing, you can help to further develop your baby's sense of smell by introducing new aromas like herbs, coffee beans, flowers, and even the smell of crayons.

When it comes to taste, babies are born with a taste for sweetness as a way to make sure they are attracted to their mother's milk. By 4 months of age, most babies will have already developed a taste and a liking for salty flavors also. You can further enhance your baby's taste buds by introducing just a touch of flavor into their milk and cereals. As your baby grows, consider adding a small bit of mild curry to their rice food or a pinch of cinnamon in their milk.


The strongest maternal bond with a newborn is developed through the sense of touch. The baby's mouth is already sensitive to touch while in the womb, but it will take a few weeks for a baby to desire the touch of his parents or siblings. Skin-to-skin contact is most preferred by newborns, which may explain why laying a baby on your bare stomach or chest is so soothing. While a 6-month-old will unwittingly touch anything and everything, by the time your baby is 9 months old, they will be aware and make decisions about what they will and will not touch.

How and when babies develop a sense of smell

We've discussed how babies are born with a strong sense of smell, but that sense only gets stronger and stronger with each passing week. Infant sensory development is a combination of both the babies' five senses and their motor skills working together to help the newborn learn within their new environment.

It is by the second trimester that the baby's nostrils have formed. Soon after, the baby can smell and breathe in the amniotic fluid that passes from mother to child.

When the baby is born, they certainly have a strong sense of smell, but it will take a few months for those smells to trigger a consistent reaction in the baby's brain. To continue developing your newborn's infant sensory developmentavoid wearing synthetic chemical-based beauty products and consider using all- natural essential oil aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy products for babies should be made with high-quality essential oils that are found to be therapeutic for both physical and emotional well-being. Since ancient times, plant extracts have been used to treat and soothe skin conditions, alleviate physical stress, and relax the mind.

Recognizing people, places and things

Parents always wonder if their new baby can recognize their faces. Well, your baby may not truly recognize your face for a few months, but they quickly begin to recognize your smell. They know if it is you when you enter their room, and who are holding them, just by how you smell.

In a short time, they begin putting together the smell of your scent with your face, your touch, and your voice. That explains why a Mum can immediately settle a frantic newborn, while another person holding them only makes things worse.

Babies under a year of age will also recognize places and things by how they smell, as long as the smell is fairly consistent. So yes, a baby will instinctively know when they're in your kitchen while you're cooking or in the car while you're driving. Even when you hand your infant child their favourite toy, it is probably their favourite only because of how it smells and not because it makes cute jingly noises.

Smells that soothe your baby

Showering with fragrant soaps and using beauty products with heavy scents will only hide your own smell from your baby. The different smells that your infant is sensing make it difficult for their brain to know that you are you, which can make it harder to comfort and soothe your baby when she or he may be upset.

So, what scents can be used to soothe your baby? Most baby products have a very soft and sweetly fragrant smell for a good reason. Babes love sweet-smelling scents!

Baby aromatherapy involves using products that infuse soothing smells into your child's environment after they've passed the 3-month-old mark. You can find lovely scents that can reduce anxiety, promote sleep, or even open the baby's airways for better breathing. Of course, always make sure that new products you introduce into the baby's environment are safe for babies or have been approved by your paediatrician.

When considering baby aromatherapy, look for products that contain some of these essential oils for both mum and babe and observe how both you and your baby enjoy the new smells.

Essential oils for new babes

  • Chamomile - a gentle, soothing scent that can help baby sleep
  • Frankincense - promotes an overall sense of peace and well-being
  • Mandarin - a sweet-scented orange that can calm baby's nerves
  • Eucalyptus - can relieve respiratory congestion and promote better breathing
  • Lavender - can calm and relax an irritated baby

Essential oils to support pregnant and new mums:

  • Clary Sage - alleviates stress and promotes feelings of relaxation
  • Tea Tree - used to disinfect the nursery air and surfaces
  • Rose - can effectively reduce anxiety, depression, and pain
  • Jasmine - can reduce labour pains by reducing spasms
  • Neroli - can reduce both pain and inflammation

Always check the essential oil product ingredients to make sure no irritating alcohol is present in the mixture.

Encouraging baby's sense of smell

It is a good idea to encourage your baby's sense of smell, because increasing this single infant sensory development has been proven instrumental in increasing all other senses. The recognition of smells involves certain brain processes. For this reason, when you shower and shampoo with the same products for the first 6 months after having your baby, you will train the baby to connect your scent with your look, your voice, and your touch.

Cuddle your baby often, so they can really smell your skin, hair, and mouth. And finally, don't switch baby care products too often. Stick with lightly scented, all-natural products, even for your laundry and dryer. As the baby becomes accustomed to the same smells, they are more comfortable and happier within their environment

The importance of smell for babies

Smell is one of the most important senses, right after sight, for all mammals and non-mammals. For baby, their eyesight is still weak, they have yet to become familiar with your touch, and even though they can hear you just fine, they have yet to learn what sounds are good, and which sounds signal danger.

But, every child is born with a keen sense of smell that is critical to helping them navigate their new environment. Even before you ever put your infant child to your breast for feeding, they will instinctively know that your breast is a source of food - and they know this through their keen sense of smell.


Can babies recognize their mother by smell?

Babies can absolutely recognize their mother by smell, but only if the Mum is not disguising or covering her smell with consumer products that have a strong scent. Even still, if you hold your baby to your skin often enough, they will know the difference between you and someone else simply by the natural smell that emanates from the mother's skin pores.

Do babies have a sense of smell in the womb?

Yes, babies have a sense of smell while still in the womb. A baby's sense of smell is thought to be developed so early because everything that the mother consumes will also pass through the baby. And all those different foods and beverages, even though they have been consumed and converted into nutrients, will have different smells.

Can babies smell mother's milk?

Probably the one smell that a baby will instinctively know first, is the smell of their mother's milk. Similar to how animals instinctively know what not to eat, it is the smell of the mother's milk that seems to be genetically encoded with newborns - no training is required for newborns to know that mother's milk is nutritious and fulfilling.

Visit Cradle & Tonic online to discover how our essential oil products, including aromatherapy candles and all-natural skincare products, can support the bonding experience between mum and babes using aromas that relax and comfort.