Want to know all about your baby’s sense of smell and how it can be used to comfort him? MH speaks to the experts.
WORDS CHRISTEL GERALYN GOMES
Newborns come into the world screaming and kicking, but it never fails to amaze how they go – within seconds – from crying to calm as they are put on Mum’s bare skin. Babies come into the world with senses that are quite well developed. Inhaling mummy’s scent, hearing her already familiar voice, and feeling the warmth of her skin is an immediate source of comfort.
Comforting Baby with Smell
Knowing baby’s sense of smell is one of his dominant senses at birth can be used to your advantage as they are connected to baby’s primal need for comfort, security and food.
For the first two months of life, even when you are at your dirtiest, baby prefers the smell of mum to anything else. In the first week of life, your baby is already able to distinguish your natural scent from someone else’s. Holding baby close to your skin is sometimes all that he needs.
Being able to smell each other’s natural scent is also closely related to the
levels of oxytocin that both mother and baby produce. Oxytocin is often referred to as
the love hormone and is instrumental to the bonding process.
Baby is also comforted by the smell of your breast milk, which he can distinguish within the first week of life. Skin-to-skin contact with mum immediately after birth results in enhanced infant recognition of their own mother's milk odour as well as longer breastfeeding duration which is why so many hospitals encourage such early skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth.
The comforting effect mum’s milk can have on a baby is profound – many studies have shown that babies who are breastfed or fed their mother’s milk while undergoing a painful procedure (like blood taking) are soothed more easily.
It may be interesting to you that your newborn is soothed by the smell of amniotic fluid as it invokes scent-memories of being safe and cosy in the womb. Experiments have shown that hours after birth, babies prefer breasts that have been dabbed with amniotic fluid.
Before you think about making the weird request for your doctor to save some of your amniotic fluid,
the preference for this last only a short time and fades away after a few days.
Dad and familiar people
Besides the smell of mum or of her breast milk, experts agree that other familiar smells can also be reassuring. Don’t feel left out, Dad, your baby loves you too! Be sure to hold your baby as often as possible and get him familiar with your smell.
Stuffed toys and baby’s “blankie”
Apart from the smells of people, loved objects like stuffed toys or a favourite blanket can also be a source of familiarity and reassurance. On the flipside, your baby might get visibly upset or confused when a smelly blanket or toy is washed.
If you’re wondering what else you can use to soothe baby to sleep, the gentle scents of essential oils can help. This might come in especially handy right after baby’s blanket has been newly washed!
Lavender and sweet almond oil, in particular, are recommended. A study titled The Effect of Aromatherapy, Music Therapy and Vibration Applications on Neonatal Stress and Behaviours by Tosun and Erdem has found aromatherapy using lavender and sweet almond oil to decrease stress in premature babies.
Be aware that when using essential oils, don’t put them directly on baby’s skin as some oils can irritate baby’s extra-sensitive skin or be overpowering for him. Instead, use a diffuser that is safely out of baby’s reach.