Study: The role of your newborn's fragrance

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Your baby's sweet, mild scent has a lot more importance than you can imagine.

What’s one of the first things you did when your baby was born? You probably gathered her into your arms, gazed at her beautiful face, and then, gently kissed the top of her head. Do you remember the incredible fragrance you got from your baby when you did this? Your newborn baby’s smell is perhaps one of the most wonderful scents you may ever experience, making you wonder, “Why do babies smell so good?”

What is the secret behind that sweet newborn fragrance?

Why do babies smell so good?

There are a few theories about why newborn babies smell so lovely and where the smell comes from, and  all these ideas are equally fascinating. 

George Preti, Ph.D., is an analytical chemist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. He says: “One theory is that it comes from chemicals secreted from a baby’s sweat glands.” 

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Why do babies smell so good? | Image: file image

There’s another theory about this as Preti explains. This wonderful fragrance your little one emits soon after birth comes from a whitish, waxy gunk called vernix caseosa. Vernix caseosa coats your newborn’s skin while in the womb, and traces of it are left after birth too. While this coating is normally washed off immediately, its unique smell may linger on your baby’s skin. 

Why do babies smell so good: nature’s way of safeguarding your little one

Helen Fisher, Ph.D. is a biological anthropologist and professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

She says: “A human baby is extremely vulnerable, and if we didn’t adapt to find them irresistible, we wouldn’t feel a pull to take care of them and they would die — and soon humans would die out, too.”

She also adds that: “Big eyes, a rosy glow, rolls of fat — our brains are hard-wired to recognise these features as appealing, compelling us to become attached to newborns and want to help them survive.”

Your newborn baby’s smell is one of the many ways where we have evolved as a species to love and nurture our little ones. 

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Why do babies smell so good? It is nature’s way of protecting the little ones! | Image: file image

George Pret shares another reason that explains why your baby’s smell is crucial for his survival.

He says: “The scent helps mothers recognise and bond with their offspring. Research shows that when a mother smells her baby, the pleasure centre of her brain lights up.”

So apart from nature’s way of ensuring the security of your newborn, it’s also a way in which you can bond with your little one. 

Why do babies smell so good: bonding with your baby through the sense of smell

Your baby’s birth is just the beginning of a beautiful, life-long relationship between mother and child. And both yours and your baby’s scent and smell play a significant role in preserving this beautiful bond.

Here is how scent and smell work and facilitate mother-child bonding

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Why do babies smell so good? Scent plays a role in mother-child bonding. | Image: file image

  • Mum, your breasts have a unique fragrance. And based on that, you baby identifies you. For example, the identification of your breast smell and that of your baby’s is stored in both your olfactory system memories. This is one of the things that fosters mother-child bonding at birth. It also plays a part in your baby’s development.
  • For you mum, your baby’s smell can be a great therapy for those postpartum aches and pains. Moreover, your body awaits cues to transition into the next physiological stage after childbirth. So, your baby’s smell sends a signal to your body that its now time for an oxytocin release to help your uterus to contract.

Tips for bonding with your baby through the sense of smell

Mums, by now you know how important it is to bond with your baby through smell. So, do keep in mind these simple things to easily establish a connection with your newborn. 

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Why do babies smell so good: bonding tips | Image: file image

  • Ensure that your caregivers understand the importance of preserving the bond in this way. They should enable a quiet, calm and peaceful environment for you and your baby. 
  • You should hold your baby for as long as possible soon after birth. At the same time, handling your little one by others should be minimal.
  • Putting a hat on your newborn can be an obstacle in the bonding process. So, avoid that if possible.
  • Give yourself ample skin-to-skin time with your baby, and try to establish breastfeeding during this time. 
  • Postpone your baby’s first bath for as long as possible. Bathing can wash off your little one’s natural scent.

 

Sources: Women’s Health, Attachment Parenting

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