Are New Moms Addicted to the Smell of Babies?
Researchers in Montreal have discovered that mothers' brains react to baby scents the way addicts react to drugs.
The sweet, sweet smell of a newborn baby…can anyone resist it?
Certainly not Iola Kostrzewski, a Minnesota mom of two.
Kostrzewski’s not alone and now researchers from the University of Montreal say they may have a better understanding of why the whiff of a newborn stirs such fervor among mothers in particular. It has to do with how the brain rewards certain actions—including, believe it or not, taking drugs and eating.
“The olfactory—thus non-verbal and non-visual—chemical signals for communication between mother and child are intense,” Johannes Frasnelli, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Montreal’s Department of Psychology, said in a statement announcing the results of a recent experiment. “What we have shown for the first time is that 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,” he said.
The Montreal researchers reached their conclusions, which were published in the journal “Frontiers in Psychology,” after studying two groups of 15 women. One group consisted of women who had recently given birth; the other, of women who had never given birth. Each woman was exposed to newborn scents taken from babies’ pajamas two days after they were born.
While the women put their noses to work, researchers ran imaging tests on their brains.
For the group of new mothers, the tests showed greater activity in the center of the brain, in the “dopaminergic system of the caudate nucleus” — a structure that, thanks to the chemical dopamine, makes a person feel pleasure in response to certain behaviors, thereby reinforcing those behaviors.
“This structure plays a role in reward learning,” Frasnelli said. “And dopamine is the primary neurotransmitter in the neural reward circuit.”
The mothers’ group showed higher dopamine activity than the non-mothers’ group. Researchers say their results show that a newborn’s scent can elicit “maternal care functions” such as breastfeeding and protection.
What researchers don’t know is whether it’s the actual act of giving birth or their early “olfactory experience” with their babies that makes mothers’ brains dopamine-rific in response to newborn scents.
Men weren’t studied, so it’s also unclear whether men’s and father’s brains respond in the same way, but at least one poll suggests that there is a gender divide.
A survey of British citizens by the market research firm OnePoll in 2009 found that women included babies’ scents in their top 10 lists of favorite smells, The Telegraph reported. But when both men and women’s favorites were ranked together, babies’ scents dropped down to no. 12, behind the smell of fried bacon, among others.
No word on whether anyone is working on bacon-scented onesies to promote infant-father bonding…but it could be a product worth nosing into.
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN