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.
|Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
|Early online date
|20 Apr 2020
|Published - 8 Jun 2020