What Can Baby Smell?

Recently, I was thinking about my baby’s sense of smell. I was wondering: How developed is her sense of smell? What can she smell? Does she have any scent preferences at such an early age? Of course, I took to the Internet to do research during one of our late night nursing sessions. With the help of everyone’s good friend Google, I found an informative website that provided insight on a Newborn Sense of Taste and Smell

From this website, I learned that newborns initially learn the most about their environment through taste and smell, not through vision and hearing. Newborns can even recognize the smell of their own amniotic fluid. Research has shown that newborns have such a keen sense of smell that they can recognize the scent of their own mother’s breast milk within the first week of life. Familiar smells can calm a baby (mother/breast milk), while strong, unpleasant smells (perfumes) can make the baby turn his or her head away.

With this in mind, I put together a simple smelling activity to do at home with my baby. Introducing babies to a variety of smells supports the development of their olfactory systems. For my in-home experiment in scent, I chose a variety items with distinct and strong smells that I could hold up to her nose to gauge her reaction. I was looking for her facial expressions: smiling, frowning, turning her head away, etc… This little girl did not disappoint!


Cinnamon Sticks: By far her favorite! I held the cinnamon stick under her nose and she smiled with joy.

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Orange: Not a huge fan. The citrus smell caused her to grimace and then turn away.

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Basil: Not so much. When I held the basil under her nose, her bottom lip went into “pout mode” in preparation for the waterworks. (Don’t worry. I quickly removed the offending scent, and she returned to her lovely, baby self.)

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Lemon: Meh??? She liked the lemon smell better than the basil, but it didn’t elicit quite as big of a reaction as the orange. (Perhaps, she was in olfactory overload by then.)

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Baby and I had a great time doing this activity. This activity can be done with babies four-weeks-old to four-months-old (and older!). If the first time you try it you’re not noticing much of a reaction; don’t worry. Just wait a week and try it again.

When you do try it for yourself, here are a few tips…Be sure to expose your baby to language while you do the activity. Don’t hold the objects up to him or her in silence. Explain to your baby what you are doing (e.g. “This is a lemon. Let’s smell the lemon together!”). Once your child reacts to the smell, you can comment on the reaction (“Oh, you didn’t like the lemon! Was the smell too strong for you?”). Remember, your baby is watching you while you talk and taking in everything you are saying.

My baby and I had so much fun experimenting with different smells. It was great watching her different facial expressions and preferences begin to emerge! We hope you enjoy this activity as much as we did.


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