Considering the stench of babies’ nappies, one could be forgiven for imagining that babies have a poor sense of smell. In fact, the opposite is true, and by the time they are born, their olfactory organs are already incredibly well developed and are being used as a means to explore and learn about their worlds. As mothers, this gives us wonderful opportunities to work essential oils into baby’s routines and to help, bond, comfort and help him thrive.
A Newborn’s Sense of Smell
A foetus begins forming their sense of smell at around seven weeks of gestation and can smell long before they are born. Soon, their nostrils form and by ten weeks gestation, baby has already formed the receptors that, by adulthood, will be able to discern a trillion different fragrances. At this stage, he can smell mum’s amniotic fluid, which smells very much like the colostrum she will give him when he is born, and he begins to feed. Here, he will notice changes in the smell and taste of the fluid as she chooses different things to eat. By the time he is born he will be familiar with spicy, meaty and sweet fragrances dependant on what foods mum enjoys.
When he is born, studies show he can recognise the smell of his mother’s amniotic fluid at three days and by two weeks old, will be able to discern between hers and that of another woman. Until two months old, baby is genetically programmed to prefer the smell of mum over anyone else, and his sense of smell is closely connected to his eating and to his comfort.
Given that then, it is vitally important that mum does not overwhelm baby with lots of different smells. Using heavy deodorants and bath oils that mask her innate aroma confuses him and will often unsettle a child. Choosing one signature oil and using it delicately can make an enormous difference to both bonding and comfort.
Essential Oils to support Bonding
That said, essential oils are also incredibly important to mum’s own journey into motherhood. Studies show that babies relate to stress in different ways to adults. Where our stress hormone, cortisol, spikes when we perceive danger, a baby’s works differently. Until two years of age, a baby’s cortisol levels mimic that of its mother. So, then, for it to thrive and be happy, mum must also be happy, and studies show that mums who are given rose oil to inhale, are calmer and bond better with their babies.
Lavender and camomile are calming, and geranium, very much like rose, settles the emotions. These four oils are the best choices to introduce to baby in its early days. Choose one, and stick to it for several weeks giving him a chance to start building memories and associations around the fragrance. Watch closely though, does he like it, or not? If not, try a different oil.
Using essential oils on mum’s skin can have opposing effects. If the smell is one he is used to, from the womb, it is likely to soothe him, but conversely, since the oils go into the blood, eventually they find their way into the milk. Not oils taste great, and not all babies like the taste at all. This can radically impact on feeding.
A great way to get around this is to put one drop of oil onto breast pads, before inserting into the bra. The molecules attach the skin and delicately fragrance the breast for feeding time. Later, at bed time, place the pad into baby’s cot. The fragrance of the colostrum and the oil are the perfect blend of “mum” to comfort him to sleep.
Likewise, the signature fragrance delicately scents your T-Shirt, so leave that with dad or grandparents to sooth baby when you are not around. In the same way, use your pillowcases and T-Shirts in the pushchair and car seat for you to seem closer to baby. Don’t forget to have one close for vaccination day, to soothe and comfort, all day long, even when you need to put him down.
It takes several weeks for babies’ skins to form fully, and when they are born,the skin is extremely permeable; too permeable for essential oils. Do not use oils in their skins until at least three months old.
That said, diffusing lavender at bath time, starts the soothing process. Simply run a sink of warm water and add one drop. This diffuses lavender into the air without touching babies skin.
As time progresses, baby’s gaps between feeds stretch out, and everyone should be able to get some sleep. Lavender is a wonderful help here. Rather than saturating the room with an overpowering stench, wash baby’s sheets, jimmy jams and favourite toys with a couple of drops in the washer. Add a tablespoon of Epsom salts to the middle section of your powder dispenser and add in five drops of lavender. Delicately fragranced, the molecules will evaporate, soothing him to sleep without overpowering his fragrance of you, or giving him a headache!
As he starts getting used to fragrances and making associations, don’t be surprised if he then becomes incredibly angry at you for taking him comfort blankets and putting them in the washer! Often people are confused that one day a teddy will soothe and the next day it serves no purpose at all. It is often because the comforting smells have been washed off! Use folded paper towels with a couple of drops of lavender to fragrance pyjamas and linen in the drawers. Better still, save lavender stems and flowers in the summer and lay them between. That way, you have a steady stream of “the smell” coming baby’s way even if you have had to chuck some in the washer.
As they age, and they start to want to play, essential oils can help you to train what activities happen at what time of day. Diffusing orange and lemon oils, in the morning, are fantastic ways for their brains to discern fun time from sleepy time. Both are soothing, but happy and uplifting oils, helping them to absorb positive associations with learning but then programming them for times to settle down and sleep.
Studies show that babies with colic are soothed with massage using lavender diluted into almond oils. Although they seem to be able to discern whether it is the massage or the oil doing the work. For older babies, over 6 months, use the lightest feather touch over the abdomen stroking, around the navel. Work clockwise, two strokes up, two strokes across, two strokes down and one across the pelvis. Repeat.
Ensure the oil is room temperature.
For smaller babies, warm a pillow case and add one drop of lavender. Place the pillowcase over a cushion. Drape baby, on your lap, over the cushion, so his tummy and chest are against the warmth, while patting his back. Ensure his head and face are not constricted. This warmth often soothes the pain of the colic.
Blocked up noses are always troublesome with babies. Do not be tempted to reach for the eucalyptus that can slow down breathing. A drop of frankincense in the diffuser is comforting, opens the airways and decongests. A far safer alternative for baby.