Series 1- chemosensory (smell and taste)
The chemosensory environment refers to the exposure of an infant to chemical agents that stimulate mainly the olfactory (nose) sensory system. It can be positive (mother’s scent) or negative (perfume). This environment can have a permanent impact on the developing brain. Newborns have a strong sense of smell. An infant’s sense of smell can be negatively affected by exposure to harsh odors. Some examples of negative odors that we would like to limit in the NICU: perfumes and scented lotions, cigarette smoke odor in clothing, aerosol sprays, equipment cleaning solution, alcohol foam and floor wax/cleaning solutions. Some scents that have a positive effect on the infant’s chemosensory development are: breast milk, colostrum, amniotic fluid and mother’s natural odor. A mother’s natural scent is essential in the bonding process also.
Exposure of the infant to mother’s scent produces calming, pain-relieving, stimulatory and blissful reactions in the infant. It helps sooth crying. Mother’s scent helps the infant in feeding preparation, nipple acceptance, and sucking pattern and ability.
Because providing opportunities for exposure to mother’s scent is important, the NSN at Wesley encourages mother’s to engage in skin to skin with their babies as soon as they are medically ready and provide Scent Circles to be used by the infant in mother’s absence. Mother providing breast milk promotes maternal scent as well as other benefits to the infant. Teaching mother about the unique role of maternal scent in sensory development is important.
Scent circles are a process improvement that the Family Advisory Council is directly involved. They learned of the need for the infant’s to have opportunities to mother’s scent and found a way to provide the scent circles for families through volunteers making them. Scent circles are round cloth, about 5 inch diameter, made out of double thickness flannel or single thickness fleece. Mother takes the circle and places it under her bra strap before bed (or pinned to her night gown). She wears the circle against her skin for 2 nights to allow it to absorb her body’s scent. In between wearing at night, she keeps it in the ziplock baggy it came in to keep it clean and free from other odors. Mother should avoid wearing perfumes, scented lotions, or other aromatic products when wearing the scent circles. Avoiding cigarette/tobacco smoke and household chemicals is important too. She leaves one circle with the baby in the NICU while she prepares the other one with her scent. After the infant has used one circle she takes that circle home to wash with baby laundry soap. She continues this rotation of wearing, returning and washing until the baby goes home or no longer sleeps on his/her tummy. Mother should avoid using the scent circles when skin lesions and/or infections are apparent. This circle should not used after the baby goes home as it is dangerous for an infant to sleep on his/her belly because of the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
For more information about the Scent Circles, email Sarah Mosier RN at