The fascinating reason why we can’t stop sniffing a newborn baby’s head


Content Editor / June 26 2019

When my first daughter was a newborn baby, I was carrying her from her cot across my bedroom when my husband said “you know you’ve just kissed her head 13 times in a row?”

It’s something we do without even thinking about – smelling, nuzzling and kissing a new baby’s head. That newborn baby scent is positively addictive.

There’s obvious biological reasons for this – they smell great, so we want to love, cuddle and nurture them, which is essential for their growth, health and wellbeing.

Getty Images

Getty Images

But researchers have found a fascinating reason why we crave that new baby smell so much – the feeling it gives us is similar to eating delicious food or taking drugs.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, looked at the brain scans of 30 women who had recently smelled pyjamas that had been worn by a newborn baby. Fifteen were new mothers, and 15 had never given birth.

Researchers found that when the women inhaled that newborn smell, their brain scans showed increased activity in the dopamine pathway of the brain that is associated with rewards.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Most of the women were unable to pinpoint the smell, however they did say that they found the smell pleasant.

When sniffing the baby pajamas, the dopamine pathways in a region of the brain associated with reward learning lit up, LiveScience reports.

And while the new mums had a stronger reaction to the newborn baby smell, women who hadn’t given birth also had their dopamine pathways triggered.

So when you’re pushing through endless days on tiny amounts of sleep with a new baby, one whiff of that precious baby head gives you the desire and ability to keep going.

Pretty clever, huh?

Nicola Conville has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 20 years across a wide range of print and online publications. Her areas of expertise are parenting, health and travel. She has two children; Lucy, age eight, and Nathan, age five.