The Scent of Newborns Causes a Narcotic Effect on the Brain of Mothers?

The scent of newborns has great effects on mothers, as it calms and relaxes them when they're close to their babies. Learn more.
The Scent of Newborns Causes a Narcotic Effect on the Brain of Mothers?

Last update: 18 May, 2023

Nature works in wonderful ways to ensure the bond between a mother and her child after giving birth. And there’s no mother who hasn’t experienced time and time again the delicious and unique scent that permeates from her baby during their first months of life. Something that’s no surprise, because the scent of newborns causes a narcotic effect on the brain of mothers, and today we’ll explain why.

Do you still remember what your little one smelled like when you had them in your arms for the first time? That particular aroma full of hormones has the power to generate in moms a sense of pleasure and relaxation that’s very similar to that of drugs. It makes them feel calm and fall madly in love with their helpless babies.

Science confirms it: The scent of newborns scent causes a narcotic effect on the brain of mothers

In nature, nothing happens by chance, and there are factors that are deeply influential in producing a unique connection between a mother and her little one. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology revealed that the natural scent that permeates from newborns is carefully designed by nature to help mothers create a loving and protective bond with their babies.

To demonstrate this, researchers recruited 30 women; 15 of whom had recently given birth and 15 of whom had never been mothers. They asked them to react to different mysterious smells to study their neural activity through functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The scents included newborn babies’ pajamas impregnated with their characteristic odor.

A mother smelling her newborn baby girl's hand.
Both mothers and their babies naturally react to each other’s body odor, giving them reassurance and security.

Most of the women said that trying to identify the babies’ natural scent gave them a pleasant sensation in their bodies. Furthermore, the MRIs showed that smelling these pajamas activated dopamine (the happiness hormone) pathways in brain areas that are associated with reward and learning, regardless of their maternal status.

However, although almost all of them reacted to this stimulus, new mothers were the ones who undoubtedly experienced a stronger sensation compared to non-mothers. According to the researchers, the body odors of newborns cause hormonal changes that act as a catalyst for mother-child bonding. This makes these women feel happy, relaxed, and calm when they’re close to their little ones.

The sense of smell not only benefits mothers

It’s a well-known fact that, after childbirth, skin-to-skin contact is essential not only to promote successful breastfeeding but also to naturally release oxytocin. The love hormone strengthens the bond between mothers and their newborns through touch and smell. So, olfactory stimuli aren’t only beneficial for mothers, but also for their little ones.

A mother breastfeeding her baby.
The natural smell of moms brings reassurance to babies and makes them naturally seek the breast for feeding.

Research led by Professors R. Porter and J. Winberg showed that human babies are particularly sensitive to maternal odors after birth, especially the olfactory signals emanating from the nipple/aureole region of their mothers. Minutes after birth, the natural breast odor triggers a natural orientation in newborns that guides them to the nipple and generates successful suckling and breastfeeding.

Although newborns are generally attracted to breast odors produced by lactating women, breastfed infants quickly learn their mother’s characteristic olfactory signature while sucking on her breasts and can subsequently recognize her by that unique odor alone. Early odor-based recognition may be an important factor in the development of the mother-baby bond.

-R. Porter and J. Winberg-

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The scent of newborns causes a narcotic effect in the brains of mothers to promote lifelong bonding

It’s very common to observe moms sniffing their babies’ little heads or even their clothes, ending with a deep sigh of happiness and a smile on their faces. And although some childless people may find this behavior strange, the truth is that science has confirmed that the scent of newborns has a neurological response in the brain of their mothers.

Nature in its infinite wisdom knows what to do so that, through hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin, the bond between a mother and her baby flourishes. In this regard, the survival and care of little ones are guaranteed as it awakens a mom’s innate protective instinct that motivates them to do their best for their children.

So, don’t worry too much if you love to smell your baby and their little clothes after birth. This is a normal behavior of the body to make you fall in love with your child and want to take care of them as much as possible from any danger. Thanks to the secretion of the hormones of happiness and love, the indestructible bond between a mother and her little one begins to develop from the moment they have the opportunity to hold each other in their arms.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.