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02nd Feb 2024

The newborn baby smell really does make you happy, according to science

It is the best smell.

According to a study by the University of Montreal, for mothers, a newborn baby smell is every bit as good as drugs.

Canadian scientists are claiming that a newborn baby’s odour lights up the reward centres in our brain in a way other scents just can’t. And for women – specifically moms – the experience, a rush of dopamine to the brain, is heightened.

In fact, the reaction is so strong, it exists even if the baby isn’t in front of you. It’s chemistry between moms and babies.

“What we’ve shown for the first time is the odour of newborns – which is part of these signals – activates the neurological reward circuit in mothers. These circuits may especially be activated when you eat while being very hungry, but also in a craving addict receiving his drug. It is, in fact, the sating of desire,” lead researcher Dr. Johannes Frasnelli said.

Frasnelli, who is a professor of psychology at the Montreal-based university, recently collaborated with colleagues in Sweden and Germany in a project looking at how odour affects our brains. In this case, the scent of newborn babies was put to the test. The pyjamas they had lived in for about a day or two were frozen to capture the odour. Then, 30 women – half of which were moms and half weren’t – were put to the test.

Under an fMRI scanner, the women were given shots of air, newborn baby scent and a third scent. They were then asked to describe the scents – in the case of the baby odour, it was typically described as “slightly pleasant” – while researchers studied their brain reaction.

But the brain scans revealed that the limbic system of the women’s brains had lit up. And for new moms, the reward centre responded so strongly there was a marked statistical difference compared to the group of women who hadn’t had their maternal instincts kick in yet.

According to Frasnelli, this reaction a mere whiff of a baby has on our brain’s reward centre can go a long way in explaining why parenthood makes new mums and dads so happy. As in; even without the baby in front of them, the subjects’ brains were flooded with feel-good endorphins