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Newborns nurse smell memories: toddlers prefer odors whiffed during breast-feeding days.

Within a week after birth, babies inhale new memories at their mothers' breasts. Newborns who whiff a specific odor while breast-feeding, even if smelled for only eight days, prefer that same odor over others a year or more later, reports a team led by Benoist Schaal of the European Center of Taste Sciences in Dijon, France.

Like other infant mammals such as rats and pigs, human newborns easily learn smells associated with breast-feeding, the team concludes in a paper to appear in Developmental Science. These types of odor memories form most robustly during the first week of life and can be reactivated and influence behavior until at least toddlerhood, the researchers propose.

Carolyn Rovee-Collier of Rutgers University's Busch campus in Piscataway, N.J., calls the new findings "compelling evidence of a period of exuberant learning in early infancy when infants rapidly associate events that occur simultaneously." The results support the controversial idea that infants can form associative memories, she contends.

Schaal's team capitalized on midwives' practice in one part of France of recommending that nursing mothers apply a chamomile balm to their breasts to prevent nipple soreness. Researchers offered the balm to breast-feeding mothers of newborns in a French maternity ward. Of 37 mothers who agreed to participate in the study, 20 used the chamomile concoction--slathering it on for eight to 120 consecutive days of nursing, as needed.

At age 7 months, children of the breast-feeding mothers received three teething rings one at a time. Rings had a chamomile scent, a violet scent or no scent. Infants whose mothers had used the chamomile balm spent substantially more time mouthing and holding the chamomile ring than the other rings. Infants of mothers who didn't use the balm showed no preference.

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At age 21 months, toddlers exposed to chamomile during breast-feeding preferred playing with chamomile-scented toys and almost always chose to drink from a chamomile-scented bottle. Toddlers who hadn't been formerly exposed didn't show this preference and showed signs of disgust when swabs of chamomile were placed under their noses.

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Title Annotation:Humans
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 13, 2010
Words:340
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