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Why Smell Matters to Your Baby

Babies learn about the world around them by using their senses; smell is an important part of this process. Smell and taste are connected so a well-developed sense of smell means a healthy palate too.

Although smell is a very strong sense in babies, it’s not one we often think about including in play times, so the Tots Play programme includes some simple ideas on how to do just that.

Look out for some smelly play ideas in our next post, but first let’s start by finding out more about why their sense of smell is so important to your baby and how it develops.


You may be surprised to learn that your little one started to develop their sense of smell as early as 7 weeks into pregnancy. By the time you are 10 weeks pregnant your baby’s nostrils are already formed as are the smelling receptors. As the amniotic fluid flows through them it stimulates their early sense of smell, this enables the baby to learn the smell of their own fluid.


As a new-born, your baby is very sensitive to all smells around them. There are clear evolutionary reasons for this, studies have shown that a baby can differentiate between their own mother’s breast milk and any other. It is believed that this familiarity was formed in the womb. The human brain processes smell in the same area as it processes memory. This is why smell evokes such vivid memories in all of us, this process begins when we are babies.

One month old

By one month your little one’s nose is working hard to figure out all the different smells unique to their environment. They find some aromas too overpowering though and their acute sniffing ability can even hinder their feeding as it affects their taste buds. It is advisable not to wear really strong fragrances to avoid over powering your baby with the scent, as your natural scent is an important part of how your baby knows and bonds with you.

3 months old

A 3 month old baby is very aware of the people around them. They use their sense of smell to work out the differences between familiar people and strangers. If a baby does not like a particular smell they might communicate this to you by kicking and crying.

6 months old

The sense of smell comes into its own once weaning begins, your little one will use smell and taste to explore these new experiences. Watch out for happy cues when you are cooking; the smell might be exciting your baby! You may notice their smell preferences are the same as yours; this will again be because of their experiences in the womb.

10 months old

From 10 months your little one starts to become pickier with their smell and it affects their food choices far more (much to the annoyance of parents around the world). At this stage a baby will even use smell as a way of working out where they are. They will be able to distinguish between the individual smells of nanny’s house, your car, the pushchair and many more. Smelling something familiar will be soothing, if you can work out what their favourite smells are it might even come in handy when you are trying to calm them down.

Your child’s sense of smell will continue to grow until they are 8 years old but it will never develop so quickly as when they are babies. Use this time and have fun exploring smells together.

We will give you some simple ideas for exploring the sense of smell with your little one next time, but would love to know what you have noticed about your baby’s sense of smell already. Does your baby have any aromas that they clearly love or hate? Why not tell us about it on our Facebook page. We love to hear about it.

At Tots Play we teach you lots of fun games you can play with your little ones that help to develop all of their senses. Many of the activities will be easily adaptable for you to do in your own home as well, giving your baby as many chances as possible to grow and learn about their environment.

To find out more about the Tots Play programme and where you can find a class near you, click HERE.

Happy Playing!

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