Ever said that a baby smells so scrummy that you could gobble them up? Your brain may well be telling you to!
There is a smell that babies have somewhere between their neck and mouth that is just so lovely. It is a mixture of sweet milky deliciousness with a hint of a malty ice-cream sundae… ahhh the delicious aroma of baby smell. I know I just sounded like the witch from Hansel and Gretel… but you mothers out there know what I am talking about!
As a Midwife I am always exposed to a colourful array of sights and sounds in my daily routine. Midwives use all of their senses when looking after a woman in labour; we can tell a woman’s dilation by seeing only the curl of her toe and beads of sweat on her forehead, we know a bag of waters have popped just by the scent in the air, we can hear a grunt of a push 100 metres away with two doors closed.
My heightened sense of smell led me to discover I loved the lovely smell of babies and after looking after so many of them in the postnatal and Nursery units, I was completely drawn in, but it wasn’t until I had my own bay that I realised that I had developed a problem. I had become addicted.
Was I crazy, did I need some sort of 10 step program to wean me off this malty milk heady high?? Well apparently not! Turns out I am not crazy and there is a perfectly good and scientific based reason behind why we mothers love the smell of our babies so much.
Smells have long been linked with mother-child bonding. Research has shown that babies can recognize their mother’s smell, and mothers likewise can do the same for their children (even their poop). Now, a new published paper can explain what is going on at the mother’s end.
Dr Johannes Frasnelli, of Montreal University, conducted a study on mother’s brains via an MRI scanner while they held and smelled their babies, or baby clothing. And although mothers expressed that these smells were pleasant, their brains told an even deeper picture of excitement.
When sniffing their babies, the dopamine centre in the brain lit up like a Christmas tree on the MRI scan, showing a link to these smells and a hugely positive reaction in the brain.
Specifically, this area in the brain releases the feel good hormone, Dopamine, which is released when we experience pleasure. Examples are when eating delicious food, satisfying a craving for something like wine or chocolate (2 of my main food groups) or with pleasurable intimacy. This part of the brain when aroused several times, can even start to form addictive behaviours.
The study showed that some women were more affected than others and that the link between their smell sensitivity and dopamine receptors was more heightened (I’m sure that’s the category I fall into).
It is an amazing thing that nature does to help us bond to our babies, sight, sound, touch and even smell.
As my baby grows up I know I will have to wean myself off sniffing her every chance I get… I guess I will have to start stocking up on malt flavoured ice-cream instead.