Although your baby is surrounded by amniotic fluid, her sense of smell is already up and running well before birth. Here’s how and when it starts working — and what, exactly, your baby smells in there.
Here’s a wild fact: Your days-old newborn baby will be able to recognize you, Mom, simply by the smell of your skin. What’s more, the foods you eat while you’re expecting not only affect your developing baby’s sense of taste, they impact her sense of smell, too. Here’s what you need to know about fetal sense of smell — including when and how it develops as well as how what you eat may impact your little one for years to come.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF FETAL SENSE OF SMELL
Your baby’s sense of smell starts developing at a relatively early age. Between 6 weeks and 7 weeks of pregnancy, olfactory neurons, which help your baby’s brain to process odors, develop. By 7 to 8 weeks, the two symmetrical nasal cavities that are the foundation of your baby’s nose have formed. Soon after, the nasal passages open, connecting what your baby inhales through her nostrils to what she tastes in her mouth. Although it was once thought that plugs blocked these passages until mid-pregnancy, researchers now say they remain open throughout.
Around weeks 7 to 10, your baby’s trigeminal system develops — which allows her nose to react to touch and warmth as well as chemical stimuli in what she smells, like the freshness of mint or the spiciness of peppers.
By weeks 10 to 12, olfactory smell receptors form. Between weeks 11 to 19, those receptors’ neurons in your baby’s nose connect with the olfactory bulb in the brain. Together, these structures enable the scents the fetus inhales to communicate with her brain. And by late in the second trimester, your baby’s little nose is ready to detect odors.
CAN YOUR BABY SMELL IN THE WOMB?
Most of the research on the early development of fetal smell has been done on animals, since it’s challenging to safely study human babies in the womb. But research on preterm infants has shown that babies are indeed capable of smelling throughout the third trimester and possibly even earlier. Experts believe fetuses may be able to start smelling — i.e. reacting to the chemicals they breathe in through their noses — in the womb as early as month 6, though the sense really ramps up during months 8 and 9 of pregnancy.
WHAT YOU EAT, YOUR BABY “SMELLS”
Your baby starts swallowing amniotic fluid around week 17 of pregnancy and breathing it in around week 25. While she gets the oxygen and all the nutrients she needs from you through the umbilical cord and placenta, she’s already practicing these very important movements to prepare for life outside the womb. And since what you eat gets passed on to your amniotic fluid, your baby not only tastes but smells the foods you swallow.
A number of studies have shown that when pregnant women eat certain strongly-flavored foods throughout the last months of pregnancy, newborn babies recognize the odors immediately after birth — showing that your baby detects and memorizes these scents in the womb. Those memories may last for years: One study found that moms who ate super-garlicky meals during the last 5 weeks of pregnancy gave birth to kids who were more likely to enjoy garlic at least until the age of 8 or 9 years old.
Some evidence even suggests that your baby may be able to smell the scented beauty products you put on your skin and the perfumes you breathe in through your nose, since their chemicals enter your bloodstream and then your amniotic fluid. Research has shown that when an odor is inhaled, the chemicals that make up that smell can be detected in amniotic fluid within a matter of seconds.
YOUR NEWBORN RECOGNIZES YOU BY SMELL
A number of studies also show that the tiniest newborn babies recognize their mothers simply by smell. Infants’ noses can also sniff out breast milk and even lactating women — in both cases because breast milk has very specific substances that are extremely attractive to babies.
How is this possible? Some of the same chemicals, including a few coming from the foods you eat, are found in your amniotic fluid as well as your in skin and breast milk. And it makes sense that infants would be especially attuned to your very specific smell: Your baby needs to be able to recognize and rely on you for meals, comfort and love from day one!
HOW TO ENCOURAGE YOUR BABY’S SENSE OF SMELL
All of this means that the foods you eat during pregnancy may influence what your baby likes not only now but for years to come. So focus on snacking on an array of treats and dishes, eating a balanced and varied diet featuring plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. And feel free to try any of the stronger-flavored foods — like garlic or curry — that you’ll want to share with your little one later on, since your baby is most likely to experience and develop a preference for those scents and flavors in utero.
That said, don’t fret that your baby will be addicted for life if you have a weakness for, say, cheese fries. Researchers say that when different moms eat the same foods, the chemical compounds that appear in their amniotic fluid actually end up being very different — so their babies aren’t actually exposed to the same scent and flavors. Keep in mind that there are lot of special factors at play, both in and out of your control, that affect every aspect of how your baby develops.
The most important thing to remember and look forward to is that when that beautiful baby of yours is born, he or she will recognize you just by the way you smell after all the fine-tuning of that cute little nose that happened in utero. And that’s an experience thats’ more than worth waiting for.
Article By: What To Expect