Learning at the breast: preference formation for an artificial scent and its attraction against the odor of maternal milk

Infant Behav Dev. 2006 Jul;29(3):308-21. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2005.12.008. Epub 2006 Jan 23.


Human newborns are known to display spontaneous attraction to the odor of human milk. This study aimed to assess whether the positive response to human milk odor can be explained by nursing-related learning, and whether it can be easily reassigned to a novel odor associated with nursing. Infants were exposed or not to a novel odor (camomile, Ca) during nursing, and tested on day 3-4 for their preference for camomile in comparison with either a scentless control (Exp. 1), a scented control (Exp. 2), or maternal milk (Exp. 3). Prior experience with Ca modified the newborns' responses. While the Ca odor became more attractive than a scented control in the Ca-exposed group, the Ca-non-exposed group did not differentiate either stimulus. In Exp. 3, the Ca-non-exposed group preferred the milk odor to the Ca odor, whereas the Ca-exposed group displayed on average equal attraction to both stimuli. Thus, a novel odor can be learned at the breast, and gain similar attractive power than the odor of mother's milk. In sum, reinforcements related with the early episodes of breastfeeding mediate the rapid development of novel odor preferences in human infants.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Chamomile
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Milk, Human / physiology*
  • Odorants*
  • Smell / physiology*