Olfaction scaffolds the developing human from neonate to adolescent and beyond

Benoist Schaal, Tamsin Saxton, Hélène Loos, Robert Soussignan, Karine Durand

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)
48 Downloads (Pure)


The impact of the olfactory sense is regularly apparent across development. The foetus is bathed in amniotic fluid that conveys the mother’s chemical ecology. Transnatal olfactory continuity between the odours of amniotic fluid and milk assists in the transition to nursing. At the same time, odours emanating from the mammary areas provoke appetitive responses in newborns. Odours experienced from the mother’s diet during breastfeeding, and from practices such as pre-mastication, may assist in the dietary transition at weaning. In parallel, infants are attracted to and recognise their mother’s odours; later, children are able to recognise other kin and peers based on their odours. Familiar odours, such as those of the mother, regulate the child’s emotions, and scaffold perception and learning through non-olfactory senses. During adolescence, individuals become more sensitive to some bodily odours, while the timing of adolescence itself has been speculated to draw from the chemical ecology of the family unit. Odours learnt early in life and within the family niche continue to influence preferences as mate choice becomes relevant. Olfaction thus appears significant in turning on, sustaining and, in cases when mother odour is altered, disturbing adaptive reciprocity between offspring and caregiver during the multiple transitions of development between birth and adolescence.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20190261
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1800
Early online date20 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2020


Dive into the research topics of 'Olfaction scaffolds the developing human from neonate to adolescent and beyond'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this