Mothers know it well – that sweet scent of a newborn. It doesn’t matter whether it’s yours or someone else’s, you can’t help but inhale the second that little bundle lands in your arms.
We’ve long suspected that it somehow promotes the mother-baby bond. We also know that mothers release oxytocin when they nurse, which helps to calm the baby and encourages bonding. And when a baby smiles, the mom experiences a burst of oxytocin, which makes us feel happy and encourages us to bond even further with our babies.
Babies also prefer the sound of their mother’s voice above all others, and her scent can be extremely soothing to a stressed-out little one.
So how does the smell of a baby’s head play into all of this?
As it turns out, very little is known about the essential chemical components and odor cues that promote maternal-infant bonding, but researchers in Japan recently made some interesting discoveries.
They analyzed the unique chemical compounds on the heads of five newborns using a cap-shaped bandage made from monosilica beads. Samples were taken for 20 minutes in a stress-free environment while mother and baby were together. Two of the samples were collected within an hour of birth and the other three were done between two and three days after birth. Researchers also analyzed maternal amniotic fluid using the same beads.
Gas chromatography and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry tests identified thirty-one different volatile components on the heads of infants and twenty-one components in amniotic fluid. From there, researchers determined the specific chemical make-up of each sample.
Aldehydes, hydrocarbons, and carbonic acids were all found in the samples, but those on the heads of babies were more clearly identified than the compounds in amniotic fluid. Former studies suggest that each baby’s composition is unique; blindfolded mothers could identify their own baby’s smell out of a group of other babies. Even fathers can recognize their own baby (though their accuracy tends to be lower than the mothers’).
Researchers wondered if this translated over to non-mothers of the infants so they asked students at Kobe University to smell the infant and amniotic fluid samples. Interestingly enough, they were able to discern the baby smell from the fluid smell with an accuracy of about 70 percent (with women being more accurate than men).
So why do babies smell so good?
As far as science can tell, it’s to ensure procreation, bonding, and possibly even the safety of an infant. When we smell it, we can’t help but feel protective and happy. Of course, we mothers already knew that – so inhale a little deeper, momma. That smell won’t last for long!