Last June 7, we welcomed our beautiful baby girl, Felize Amelia. She was born 44cm, 5.9lbs, and a head full of hair. Today, July 7, marks her first month with us (and our first month of no sleep lol).
Ever since I gave birth to her, I found myself always sniffing her – her head, her arms, her stomach… even when she just pooped! Is it because I’m her mom? 100% Likely. But our family and friends can attest to this – she really does smell good!
Babies in general do smell good though. It’s not baby powder. It’s not baby fabric softener. It’s just baby smell… And one of the best smells I’ve ever smelled.
And it got me wondering, why do babies smell so good even when everything they do (eat, sleep, poop) would suggest otherwise?
There are basically 3 reasons I’ve come across to explain the intoxicating wonderful smell of babies:
1) It’s the baby’s way of ensuring their survival and creating an infant-mother bond.
“As anyone with a baby knows, newborns are not too much fun to be around. They sleep, eat, and make you change the diapers. Still, most if not all parents say that having a baby is one of the greatest experiences. So, of course, there must be mechanisms which allow for a very strong bond between parents, especially mothers, and the baby. We think that the odor of babies is involved in one of these mechanisms” — that babies draw in parents with their scent to ensure they’re kept fed, warm, and safe.
Previous research has shown that babies show preference for clothes that have been worn by their own mothers and are calmed by the scent of their own mother’s milk (but not that of other mothers) when they’re in pain and distress, which is one reason why hospitals commonly place an article of mom’s clothing inside a pre-term baby’s incubator.
A 2001 study has also shown that infants are more likely to reach for pads that have been soaked with their own mom’s breast odor. A 2006 study even found that moms didn’t mind the smell of their own baby’s poop as much compared to that of other babies.
If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
2) Is it their sweat or left over smell from the vernix caseosa that surrounded them for the past 9 months?
There’s no definite answer but there are a couple of theories:
“One theory is that it comes from chemicals secreted from a baby’s sweat glands,” George Preti, PhD, an analytical chemist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, told Women’s Health magazine. According to Dr. Preti, that smell only lasts about six weeks, because babies’ metabolism changes as they begin eating and drinking on their own instead of getting their nourishment through the umbilical cord.
Another theory, says Dr. Preti, is that the smell comes from the vernix caseosa, which is the whitish cheese-like substance that coats a newborn’s skin just after he enters the world. It’s typically washed off, but the scent may continue to linger on the baby’s hair and skin.”
3) The smell triggers a feeling of reward and pleasure.
In 2013, Johannes Frasnelli, an anatomy professor at the University of Quebec co-authored a study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology that looked closely at how women responded to the scent of newborn body odor.
He and his colleagues recruited 30 women, including 15 who had just given birth and 15 who had never, and had them each smell the scent of an unfamiliar newborn who was less than 2 days old. They found that regardless of maternal status, the smell of newborns triggered dopamine release in the reward pathways of the brain — the brains of women from both categories reacted to the baby smell as if it were a delicious treat, or even a drug.
This past month has been extremely tiring and trying and just smelling my baby seems to be a form of evolutionary reward for doing my job as a mom. Although the newborn scent will eventually fade, I’d most likely continue to love the smell of my baby – even when she’d start coming home sweaty and gross. (Or at least that’s what I’d like to think).
P.S. You can follow my beautiful baby on Instagram, too: @felize.amelia