It’s National Volunteer Week! Making scent cloths for families in the NICU is just one way our community volunteers make a difference. Learn more about becoming a volunteer.
Many parents envision bonding with their baby shortly after birth. But for a NICU parent, bonding takes on a whole new meaning.
Many NICU parents facilitate bonding through sense of smell using scent cloths, small pieces of soft fabric that provide the familiar scent of a parent, even when they can’t be present in the NICU.
How the sense of smell develops
The sense of smell is one of the earliest senses to develop. Babies actually start to recognize their mother’s sense of smell in the womb by breathing and swallowing the amniotic fluid containing the scent of the mother’s food, and that of the mom herself.1
The sense of smell is related to the part of the brain that controls memory, making it a powerful way to strengthen the bond between parents and their baby.3
How scent cloths help babies (and parents!)
Having the parent’s scent nearby can help ease the baby’s stress, according to Christie Lawrence, DNP, RNC-NIC, APN/CNS, clinical nurse specialist and assistant professor in the Department of Women, Children and Family Nursing at Rush University’s College of Nursing.2 Lawrence says that after birth, the sense of smell continues to develop, helping the baby recognize the parent and bringing them comfort when parents can be in the NICU.
Many parents also use the scent cloths to bring comfort to themselves during a NICU stay. For some the scent cloth represents one of the small things a NICU parent can do for their baby when it feels like so much is out of their control. One mom shared that she would swap out the cloths and take her baby’s scent with her when she went to pump.
“I think it maybe helped me more than it helped my baby, since I felt like I could be with her even when I couldn’t be, said NICU mom Jennifer D. “It was something I felt like I could give her.”
How volunteers can help
One of the activities Hand to Hold relies on Community Volunteers for is making scent cloths for families in the NICU. These cloths are handed out to families at our partner hospitals in Austin, Dallas and Tyler. Here are some easy instructions for no-sew scent cloths anyone can make and donate to their local NICU.
New-sew scent cloth instructions
- Flannel baby blankets or soft flannel fabric
- Pinking shears
- Make a 4 inch x 4 inch square template and trace onto flannel baby blankets or fabric.
- Cut out the squares using pinking shears for fun, decorative edges.
- Pair scent cloths into sets of two, so parents can switch them out.
- See above photo for an example of a pair of scent cloths assembled by our Community Volunteers.
Finished scent cloths can be mailed us for distribution at our partner hospitals. Send to:
Hand to Hold c/o Volunteer Services
12325 Hymeadow Dr., Suite 4 – 102,
Austin, Tx 78750
If you would like to donate to your local NICU, we recommend calling to verify the process for accepting donations.