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baby development

Stimulating your baby’s senses series: Smell

How can I stimulate my baby’s sense of smell?

Image baby with toy stimulating sense of smell

Can babies smell? Given the volume of smelly nappies, you’d be forgiven for thinking your baby’s sense of smell was non-existent. But, in fact your baby’s olfactory senses are highly sensitive from birth. Here are 10 simple ways to stimulate your baby’s burgeoning sense of smell.

1. Stimulate sense of smell before birth

Just as your baby’s sense of taste develops in the womb, so does his sense of smell. A baby can smell flavours of everything that you eat while pregnant through your amniotic fluid. Eating a range of healthy pungent foods could help him develop a taste for more unusual flavours like spicy curry (if your cravings and dislikes in pregnancy allow!)

2. Let baby smell YOU

Steer clear of artificially fragranced perfumes, deodorants and moisturisers and let your baby get to know your unique scent. The act of cuddling your baby boosts both your and your baby’s levels of a hormone called oxytocin – commonly known as the ‘love’ hormone that helps create strong bonds between the two of you.

3. Play ‘find the nipple’

Babies noses are so fine tuned that they can recognise the smell of their own mother’s breast. If you are breastfeeding, let your baby find his own way towards your nipple by nuzzling and sniffing his way there.

4. Provide comforting smells

Familiar smells are a great source of comfort for young babies. In the early days when leaving your baby for the first time, it’s a good idea to leave a pillowslip or cotton t-shirt you have worn in bed with whoever is looking after your baby. If baby can smell your scent, he will feel relaxed and comforted. Being in familiar smelling surroundings such as his crib or play-pen can also help calm an agitated baby.

5. Encourage favourite smells

Your baby may develop an attachment to a soft blanket or toy that he finds reassuring, these items can be a great sleep aid, but you will need to prize them away every now and again to wash them. Don’t be surprised if baby rejects them when you give them back. It can take some time to get the comforting smell back.

6. Stimulate baby memories

Memory and sense of smell are processed by the same part of the brain which is why certain smells remind us of certain experiences. The same is true for babies. A familiar smell could trigger a memory for your child many years down the line.

7. Sooth stranger fear

Your baby’s olfactory survival instincts are finely tuned by around three months of age, which can explain why your baby starts to cry or become anxious when encountering strangers with an unfamiliar scent for the first time. You can help by using a soothing tone of voice and use your own body language to show him that there is nothing to be scared of. Let your friend or relative hold him close so that baby can become accustomed to the smell of someone new.

8.  Give food a good nose

By six months, your baby will be using his sense of smell to help him decide which foods and flavours he likes and dislikes. This is a good time to introduce the smell of different herbs and ingredients. For example, try crushing a mint leaf in your palm and letting him sniff it. Introducing a range of different herbs and food smells should encourage healthy rather than fussy eating habits.

9. Play ‘sniff and say’

An excellent way to simultaneously stimulate hearing, cognitive and olfactory development in your baby is to let him sniff a range of items around the house, from fresh laundry, to bubble bath or even a blanket. Saying the name of each item out loud as you take it in turns to smell it will help him move closer to the next baby development milestone.

10. Try aromatherapy

Although better to avoid potent air fresheners and scented candles during the early months, aromatherapy oils particularly lavender and sweet almond oil, have been found to have soothing effects on babies. Similarly, if your baby has a blocked nose of cold, opt for a natural aromatherapy based decongestant which can be applied to a favourite blanket or toy in his cot.

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Stimulating your baby’s senses series: Smell