The Smell of a Newborn is Addictive, Science Says - Baby Chick
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The Smell of a Newborn is Addictive, Science Says

Every mother can relate to feeling addicted to the smell of her newborn. Turns out, science says it's real! Here's why.

Published August 12, 2020

Ever wish you could bottle the scent of your newborn baby and keep it forever? I remember when my now-toddlers were infants and how I would nurse or hold them, just relaxing and relishing the sweet smell off the tops of their heads for hours. When we’d play on a soft blanket on the floor, I’d nuzzle their little tummies and breathe them in. Later, when I was apart from my babies for any length of time, as soon as I’d get home, I’d immediately scoop them up into my arms and inhale a deep draught of their precious scent! It’s as though the smell of a newborn is addictive, I thought. And it turns out it is!

Science Proves That Newborn Smell is Addictive

Science confirms that the smell of your little one can be addictive. It’s designed to hook your attention and affection. One study proved that mothers recognize their newborns by olfactory cues and that these odor cues are even more pronounced than we realized before. Interestingly, 90% of mothers can identify their baby by scent alone.1

Indeed, another study concluded that naturally occurring odors and chemical signals play an important role in facilitating infant behavior, like helping a newborn locate their mother’s nipple and feed.2 In addition, the study pointed out that mothers can distinguish their baby’s odor from that of other newborns. It also found that children prefer clothes that their mother wore to clothes worn by other mothers. Thus, chemical odors play an important role in mother-child identification.

Why do mothers have this response to the smell of their newborns?

Here’s why that baby smell feels so wonderful. For mothers, it causes a surge of dopamine in the brain.3 Dopamine is an important chemical messenger your body makes that plays a role in how you feel pleasure. It’s a big part of the human ability to think and plan and involves reward and motivation. So when you smell your baby’s particular sweet scent, it causes a surge in your dopamine, and the reaction is a reward response. This is similar to what happens when you enjoy that coffee or meal you are craving. In addition, the good feeling that comes from the surge in dopamine when you sniff your newborn encourages you to stay close to them and protect them. This is good from an evolutionary perspective as it promotes mother-child bonding and survival for the baby.

But can we bottle our baby’s scent and keep it forever?

While you may not personally be able to “bottle” your newborn’s scent forever (yet), scientists in Sweden have caught onto that idea.4 They are even attempting to create a nasal spray that captures the sweet smell of a baby’s head. The body odor of newborns contains about 150 different chemicals, and a team of scientists is working to figure out exactly which chemicals cause the dopamine reaction in mothers. Then, they plan to develop and use the scent to treat depression and other mental illnesses.

So while your baby is little, take every moment to soak up their sweetness—it’s good for you, too!

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  • Author

Kristen v.H. Middleton is a Clinical Psychologist in training (PsyD), a Yale University graduate, former school teacher and administrator, turned stay-at-home mom. She lives with her husband and children in… Read more

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