Do Babies Hate Perfume?

Do Babies Hate Perfume - CryingOne of our friends got to hold an awake Arya for the first time this afternoon. While our friend had the chance to see our baby before today, our daughter had always been sleeping on previous occasions.

As soon as she held Arya, our nine-week old baby started crying. Since Arya likes when people carry her and particularly likes women carrying her, I was surprised to see her uncomfortable. After some experimentation, I finally came up with a hypothesis.

Babies hate perfume.

There is some academic evidence for perfume having an effect on young babies. Perfumed scents should be kept off of baby skin and even newborns show neurological activity in response to odor.

Babies react differently depending on whether they are breastfed or formula-fed and babies also show a preference for the perfume worn by their nursing mother.

Arya has been nursing from mommy for one-third of her meals. I have been feeding her predominantly pumped breastmilk from a bottle for most of the remainder. Family and friends feed her about 10 percent of the time. My wife doesn’t wear perfume. I can’t recall any of the other women who have fed Arya wearing any perfume. It is highly likely that Arya has an association between comfort and the natural smell of her mother. It is not likely Arya has been exposed to much, if any, perfume.

The existing research only discusses the positive association between babies and smell. I could not find any studies which tested negative responses to unfamiliar odor. Most research designs were built around competitive attention where the baby was given two choices. The choice that held the baby’s attention was deemed to be the one the baby preferred.

No study tested the natural scent of a mother versus the scent of perfume worn by the mother. More specifically for my situation, no study tested the natural scent of an unknown woman against the scent of perfume worn by the unknown woman.

During today’s incident, Arya was happy when I was carrying her just before transferring her to our friend. Arya also seemed happy to see our friend and even gave a crooked half-smile. But as soon as our friend carried Arya, baby started to cry.

We systematically eliminated other possible reasons for Arya’s distress:

She removed dangling safety goggles which may have been tickling Arya’s back.
She changed carrying positions.
She stood up.
She sat down.
She talked to Arya.
She stopped talking.

I took Arya back from our friend after a minute and baby immediately calmed down. After another minute, we had our friend carry Arya again. Just like the first time, Arya started whining within seconds and cried shortly thereafter.

Our friend suggested — although I did my best to disagree — that maybe Arya just didn’t like her.

It is possible that Arya didn’t like being carried by her, but it is not likely that Arya simply didn’t like her. Arya smiled at her when I was carrying her. Most tellingly, Arya smiled at her again when a different friend carried her.

Do Babies Hate Perfume - HappyIt would be unusual for our baby to not like being carried. It would be even more unusual for our baby to like a person, but not like being carried by that person. Arya has already met hundreds of people and more than 50 have carried her. She had, until this afternoon, not cried due to being carried by a new person.

We have no way to tell how much of our baby’s friendliness is due to genetics, from meeting lots of people from early in life, or because of the nice people she has met. But we can already tell that Arya likes interacting with people and especially loves when people smile at her and talk to her.

The only thing differentiating our friend from all the other people who have carried Arya is that our friend was wearing perfume. Her perfume was light enough that I could barely smell it from two feet away. Only when I reached close to transfer Arya into her arms was I able to notice a scent.

I’m not sure if a baby has a good sense of smell, but Arya would have been able to smell the perfume while being carried and not have been able to smell it from a few feet away.

For now we have already devised a plan. The next time our friend happens to be around when I take Arya for her daily lunchtime nursing visit, we will see how baby reacts to being carried. Depending on the frequency of our encounters we might even be able to have some meetings without perfume to test my theory.

Until then, I’m going to stick with the idea that babies hate perfume. It makes our friend feel better than to think that Arya just doesn’t like her.

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