Why is baby smell so addicting?

Me, fueling my addiction

Baby smell is addicting. Not only for newly parents, but for everyone. As soon as someone hold my daughter, the first thing they say is: “Ah, the baby smell. It is so good!”

That’s why I decided to search into the scientific literature to find something about this addicting odor.

Newborns’ smell is mainly given by the amniotic fluid, In 1998, Schaal and collaborators, were interested in understanding if the amniotic fluid has some individualized features. They asked 15 mothers and 12 fathers to smell different amniotic fluids and to identify the one belonging to their child. 80% of mothers (12 out 15) and 92 % of fathers (11 out 12) correctly identified their infant’s amniotic fluid.

These results suggest that amniotic fluid carries individualized odor features, this is probably an evolutionary trait to allow parents to initiate a relationship with their own child.

Baby smell induces the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that activate the brain’s reward center.

In 2013, Lundström and collaborators, wanted to understand if the baby smell activate a brain response in mothers only, or in all women. They asked 30 women (15 mothers and 15 not) to smell and identify different odors, some of which were baby scents. The brain activity was monitored via thermal imaging. Baby smell activated the reward center in all 30 women, but the signal was more intense in mothers.

Researchers think that the results indicate that baby scent contains a chemical compound, which stimulates a protective instinct in the person closest to them, usually their mother.

Both these experiments suggest an evolutionary feature, which induce mothers, through the addicting smell of their children, to do everything possible to protect their little and fragile creatures.

References:

Schaal et al., “Maternal and paternal perception of individual odor signatures in human amniotic fluid–potential role in early bonding?”, Neonatology (1998), 74:266-273. doi: 10.1159/000014033

Lundström et al., “Maternal status regulates cortical responses to the body odor of newborns”, Frontiers in Psycology (2013), 4:507, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00597

Published by Martina Bodner

Biotechnologist, PhD Candidate in Food Chemistry, Science Teacher, STEM and autism advocate, mother.

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