Newborn babies have a distinct smell, and I don’t mean the one associated with diapers. They just smell like, well, newborn baby. It’s hard to describe. Although we don’t think about it much, people are highly driven by smell, and it’s an important part of mother-child bonding.
A study published in Frontiers of Psychology explores this bond. The researchers behind the study recruited 30 women: 15 without children and 15 moms who had recently given birth. They measured the brain activity of the women as they smelled different odors, including the odor of newborns, as collected from cotton undershirts. The women had no idea what they were smelling.
Women had a hard time identifying the baby odor, and they said it was pleasant. The brain scans told another story, though. The scans showed activity in the dopamine pathway of the caudate nucleus, which is the region of the brain associated with rewards. The reaction was stronger in the new mothers than in the other women, but it was present in all the women.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that triggers feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Dopamine also plays a role in addiction, although that role is complex and not completely understood.
Does this mean that women are addicted to their newborn babies?
But it does help reinforce the that bond mothers have with their babies. The researchers weren’t sure of the exact cause of the dopamine response in the new moms as opposed to childless women – it could perhaps be due to hormonal changes, or maybe to the experience of caring for a newborn.
The researchers didn’t include men in the study, but it would definitely be interesting to see if they have a similar reaction to that new baby smell.