Research shows that your child will like smells and tastes more if he’s exposed to them beforehand, through breast milk.

Like hearing, smell develops in the womb, when the olfactory receptors appear as of the seventh week of pregnancy. This sense is so predominant that by the start of the third trimester, the fetus is able to smell foods that mom is eating: garlic, cumin, fennel, curry, carrot, cheese, coffee, and so on, but also alcohol and tobacco smoke. All these smells enter the blood, cross the placenta and filter through the amniotic fluid.

“Smell is also closely related to taste: nearly 80% of taste perception comes from smell. When we don’t smell a food, we hardly taste it,” notes pediatrician Dr. Cousineau.

Newborns orient themselves by smell more than any other sense. A baby placed on his mom’s belly right after birth will work his way up to her breast for his first feeding, navigating by sense of smell. This “rooting reflex” is the first exchange with mom. “Smell plays a huge role in the parent-infant bonding process. In a way, a child forms his first emotional ties through his nose,” notes the pediatrician.

Research shows that your child will like smells and tastes more if he’s exposed to them beforehand, through breast milk.

By the end of the 1st week of life, an infant’s nose is so finely tuned that he can tell the difference between the scent of his mother’s breast milk and that of another mom1. He then slowly expands his repertoire of smells: yours, those of other members of your family, or even the smells he associates with his family, for example, those that come from the kitchen or from plants in his environment (cedars, pines), etc. These familiar scents can bring him comfort throughout his life.

Olfactory memory
Unlike the other senses, our sense of smell directly permeates the part of the brain that controls our emotions. Other sensory messages (sights, sounds, etc.) first go to the cerebral cortex where they are processed and interpreted. This is why “a simple smell can instantly unlock certain memories. Smells stamp pictures into our brains,” explains Dr. Cousineau.

How to help

Choose soft scents. Try to always use the same soap (if possible one that isn’t strongly scented) and avoid putting on perfume so that your baby can discover your natural body odour. (From birth)

Let him use his nose. Your newborn can find comfort in any object that has familiar smells, such as a scarf you’ve worn, for example. Also, don’t wash his favourite blanket too often, as the familiar scents it has absorbed are soothing for your child. (From birth)

Expose him to the smells of loved ones by having his older brother, grandparents or your best friend carry him from time to time. It’ll be easier for him to recognize them afterwards. (From birth)

Teach him to enjoy the smell of foods. “You can make him aware of smells every day, such as a cake that’s just out of the oven, cinnamon, vanilla, etc. Or, let him discover the smells of spring or fall, of earth…” suggests Solène Bourque. (From 6 months old)