Congratulations on having a baby! It’s the most wonderful time of your life. You mothers have a huge impact on the lives of your children throughout. In fact, you have a strong physical, emotional and developmental impact on your children even before they are born, while being in your womb.
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Although all the sensory systems start developing in utero; but the development of the sense of smell predominates in early fetal life. Babies recognize their mother's scent even before they are born. Your baby is biologically and genetically programmed to connect to you through your unique smell. The process of development of olfactory cells (cells responsible for the sense of smell) begins as soon as the first trimester of pregnancy. The fetus breathes and swallows the amniotic fluid in utero. The ongoing development of the fetus helps him/her in recognizing the unique smell of his / her mother.
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The odour of their mothers’ amniotic fluid is the first smell babies are exposed to. The same sense of smell also helps the baby to recognize his / her mother after birth. A newborn baby’s vision at birth is not so well developed as the sense of smell. This strong and unique sense of smell (learnt in utero by the baby) helps your little one to recognize your presence even from a distance after birth. Your baby is able to differentiate the smell of your breast milk from the breast milk produced by other mothers as well as from any other type of milk.
This smell helps the baby to recognize you and leads your baby to snuggle on your chest for comfort and sense of security. This also helps in initial bond formation between you and your baby, which goes a long way in the baby’s life. It not only helps in emotional attachment but also contributes to the baby’s overall development. Even if you are not able to breastfeed, your baby will know your smell and the smell of your skin and will immediately recognize you when you come close to your little one. The facial recognition comes much later.
Babies’ sense of hearing develops significantly by 2nd trimester of pregnancy. With each passing week, the sensitivity of the fetus to external sounds improves markedly. By the third trimester, they may even respond to certain sounds and noises in utero. Although many external sounds get muffled in utero, the baby is still able to hear the mother’s voice apart from other sounds like those of flow of blood through umbilical blood vessels, maternal heartbeat etc.
Also, the fetus may be able to hear other external sounds coming from the maternal environment. Although there are reports that the baby in utero may be able to hear and recognize the father’s voice too, the scientific literature supporting this is scarce.
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However, the baby in utero is able to differentiate the mother’s voice from other sounds. In fact, the babies do react to these sounds by changes in their heart rate. Hence, even before babies are born, they hear your voice and start recognizing it. The very first time you hold them, they recognize you by how you sound.
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The development of these sensory powers when the baby is inside your womb, apart from multiple other developmental changes in both you and your baby, goes a long way in establishing a life-long bond between you and your baby.
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