Recognition of maternal axillary odors by infants

Child Dev. 1985 Dec;56(6):1593-8.


A series of 5 experiments was conducted to determine whether neonates, at approximately 2 weeks of age, can recognize their parents through axillary odors alone. Breast-feeding infants discriminated between their mother's axillary odor and odors produced by either nonparturient or unfamiliar lactating females. In contrast, breast-feeding infants displayed no evidence of recognizing the axillary odors of their father. Likewise, bottle-feeding infants appeared unable to recognize the odor of their mother when presented along with odors from a nonparturient female or an unfamiliar bottle-feeding female. Several hypotheses were presented in an attempt to account for the differential reactions to maternal odors by breast-feeding versus bottle-feeding infants. It was tentatively concluded that, while breast-feeding, infants are exposed to salient maternal odors and thereby rapidly become familiarized with their mother's unique olfactory signature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Axilla
  • Breast Feeding
  • Cues
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Odorants*
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Smell*