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What Can My Newborn Taste and Smell?

By Terence Zach, MD October 05, 2022 Posted in: Pediatrics, Parenting

Babies are born with all five senses:

  • Sight
  • Hearing
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Taste

Newborns experience the world around them quite differently than adults do. We commonly hear newborns cannot see very far in front of them, and that their vision is in black and white. But what can a new baby taste and smell?

What Can My Baby Taste?

Taste buds develop somewhere between the 13th to 15th week of pregnancy, which means that babies are born equipped with the ability to taste. Newborns should only be eating breastmilk or formula milk, so it makes sense that they prefer the taste of milk. In experiments, it has been found that babies prefer sweetened water to unsweetened water, which means that babies can taste sugar. Luckily, both breastmilk and formula milk have just enough sugar to please your newborn. Not only that, but breastmilk also has the fat, protein, minerals, and vitamins that your baby needs to thrive.

Interestingly, there is evidence that newborns can detect changes in your diet through breastmilk. Certain tastes transmit more strongly through breastmilk. Researchers have found that infants can detect flavors in breast milk such as:

  • Garlic
  • Vanilla
  • Carrots

Although some evidence exists that your breastmilk could influence your baby’s dietary preferences later, there is no need to change a healthy diet based on whether it could change the taste of breastmilk, as the food you consume is filtered and turned into nutritious and delicious food for your newborn.

What Can Babies Smell?

Like taste, research shows that babies can smell breastmilk, and they prefer the smell of breastmilk to other odors. But newborn smell is important for a lot more than just appetite! There is ample evidence that newborns prefer to smell their mothers. This helps them feel safe, and encourages bonding between mother and baby. Although most research on newborn smell is focused on the biological mother, it is likely that smell helps babies bond with all caregivers.

If a baby is staying in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), many doctors and nurses encourage mothers to share a “scent cloth” with their baby. This is a piece of fabric that the mother places inside her shirt or bra. After the cloth absorbs the mother’s scent, the cloth is placed in the incubator near the baby. This helps them feel safe and connected to their mother.

Although newborn babies have all five senses when they are born, they still need plenty of time to develop those senses. Babies can taste and smell the world around them, and these senses help newborns to feel safe and bond with their caregivers.

To find out about more about your newborns reach out to CHI Health's Women’s Health or Family Medicine Providers with questions.

Written in collaboration with medical students, Quinn Painter & Lauren Rhoda.

Terence Zach, MD
Terence Zach, MD

Terence Zach, MD, is a professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Creighton University School of Medicine.

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