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You're Not Hallucinating: "New Baby Smell" Is a Thing

Researchers reveal that a "baby fresh" scent is not just in our minds

baby smellenlargebaby smell
We've all read studies about how pheromones are the deciding factor in how we chose a mate -- that the way someone smells (even on a subconscious level) influences whether or not we're attracted to them.

Turns out that Mother Nature enlisted that same sort of olfactory authority to ensure that moms would warm to their offspring.

A new study published in the Frontiers of Psychology journal proves what moms (and anyone else who's ever held a newborn) have known for eons -- babies smell scrumptious.

As The New York Times reports, "Researchers asked 30 women -- 15 who had recently given birth, and 15 who had never given birth -- to identify mystery scents while their brain activity was monitored. When given the smell of newborns taken from pajamas, the women all showed activity in the same dopamine pathways that light up after ingesting cocaine, enjoying food, or other reward-inducing behavior. The reactions were observed in all the women, though they were stronger in the new mothers."

READ: 7 Baby Care Products Moms Love For Themselves

And, guess what? Another study showed that moms who were handed three different garments and told to sniff out which had been worn by their infant, guessed accurately 80 percent of the time. Also, a 2006 study also revealed that mothers find the scent of their kid's poop less revolting than that of others'. Gross? Sure. But, still cool.

The amazing-but-terribly-tragic thing about "new baby smell" is that it typically "vanishes" by the six-week mark. In much the same way that that tee shirt of your boyfriend/husband's that you wear/sleep in when he's travelling ultimately loses his "scent," moms find themselves trying to inhale that heady baby aroma long after its gone.

What causes the smell and why does it fade away? Well, it's kind of gross from a fundamental, scientific angle, but here, as The Times puts it, is why. "One likely component is the vernix caseosa, the white, cheese-like substance that covers babies at birth. Hospital workers usually wash it off right after delivery, but traces can remain in the baby's hair or the folds of the arms and legs and contribute to new baby smell as it breaks down.

Amniotic fluid, too, has a distinct smell that both mothers and fathers can recognize that could also be a source of new baby smell. In 1988, researchers asked 15 mothers and 12 fathers to determine which of two bottles of amniotic fluid belonged to their child. Twelve of the mothers and 11 of the fathers guessed correctly."

READ: Attached to Your Baby? Like, Really Attached? There's a Workout for That

So what can we take away from this other than the solace in knowing that we're not nuts for thinking that our babies smell(ed) delicious? How about the fact that product manufacturers are on the totally wrong page when it comes to re-creating that elusive baby smell scent because amniotic fluid and vernix caseosa most definitely do not smell like baby powder. Just saying.

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