I’m sitting on the couch a few months back, reveling in the glory of a toasted pop tart and syndicated reruns of Boy Meets World. When out of the blue my lovely but very pregnant spouse made an outlandish yet all too familiar remark, “I can’t wait to smell this baby once she’s born!”
In my head, I had those “women-are-so-damn-weird” type thoughts but outwardly I just nodded my head and said, “I know!”
Then shot a finger pistol and holstered that bad boy. What can I say? I’m a survivor.
Unsatisfied and curious, I turned to the Google machine to discover what in the hell she was talking about. Turns out addiction to smelling babies is a real thing, sorta…so you must also ask yourself?
Am I addicted??
The perennial question: Why do babies smell so good?!
The Science Behind It
The data suggests that the baby scent can be just as addicting as drugs and sex. As someone who has done lots of drugs and had loads of sex, I’m incredulous to such claims. I smell my baby and, well, she smells like a baby. Sure, it’s the fresh out of the box variety, but I’m not experiencing euphoric bursts of dopamine.
Nonetheless, it appears some folks do. And to be honest, it makes a heck of a lot of sense. At least from an evolutionary perspective.
One particular study came fully loaded with various scents, one of which was the cap of a newborn infant. It followed 30 women total, 15 of which had their maternal instincts in full throttle, the other 15 hadn’t quite yet hit the ignition (half were mom’s and half were not).
For the latter half, the cap was a pleasant aroma, but for the former, it was the nectar of gods! Seriously, they did fMRI scans during the sniffing process and unveiled some wild data.
Just for context sake, an fMRI provides functional magnetic resonance imaging, namely, this scan is leveraged to look at brain function. All the sniffing participants experienced a bombardment of feel-good neurochemicals in the reward learning domain of the brain – we’re talking a significant spike in dopamine.
However, with the mommies, it was statistically more intense, tantamount to a drug rush or a sexual encounter!
This specific region of the brain produces the cravings an addict experiences; that’s how strong the rush can be. It’s a euphoric biological cascade of baby scent glory. Thankfully, I don’t foresee mom’s panhandling anytime soon for baby scent.
Ever question how parents can handle a crying baby throughout the wee hours of the morning? Besides the overwhelming exhaustion, one peek inside their house looks like sheer pamper pandemonium. It gives even the observer anxiety! Yet, against all odds, when asked about the experience the usual parental response is “it’s such an amazing experience being a parent, wouldn’t change it for the world!”
Well, the research suggests that the euphoria produced by the baby’s scent is nature’s way of ensuring that new parents spend ample time with the neonate, bonding, snuggling, and spoiling without boundaries, even in the midst of chaos.
Of course, I’m not saying everything boils down to chemical reactions within the grey matter, and it’s unlikely that a baby scent anonymous will be needed in the future, I’m just articulating that mama’s and they’re chronic baby sniffing ventures are not crazy – they’re just addicted and by nature prepared for their parental duties.
Should we close this meeting with the serenity prayer?
Timmy G (2020)
For a deeper dive into the subject here is the research: Maternal status regulates cortical responses to the body odor of newborns