Is This Normal? “I Love to Smell Newborn Babies!”
In this recurring series, we dig into our strange phobias, fixations, and neuroses, and ask ourselves — Is This Normal?
The intoxicating smell of a baby’s head is hard to resist. In fact, once we get close to one, we have a hard time staying away. What is it about little baby heads that makes them so amazing to smell? And most importantly: is this normal?
In short, yes. It is normal, because babies’ heads actually do smell amazing. It’s not just you (and us).
A 2013 study looked at the impact of ‘baby smell’ on women, both new, first-time mothers and women who did not have children. The researchers exposed 15 new mothers and 15 non-mothers to an unknown 2-day old baby’s smell, and noted specific brain activity responses to exposure to the smell. In a nutshell: “these data suggests that body odors from 2 day-old newborns elicit activation in reward-related cerebral areas in women, regardless of their maternal status.” These dopamine hits to the reward center of the brain are the same ones we experience when we smell food, and it’s what people are chasing when they crave drugs or alcohol. In other words, it’s the same mechanism through which our bodies encourage us to behave a certain way to experience the pleasure associated with that dopamine release in the brain. The studies authors’ posited that “certain body odors may act as a catalyst for bonding mechanisms.”
In other words, babies smell amazing on purpose; human biology has engineered this set of chemical reactions specifically to ensure that helpless babies are pleasing to the people who need to take care of them. It’s part of making sure they stay alive during the first few months of constant crying, eating, and general newborn baby neediness.
So what is it about new baby smell that is so pleasing? No one really knows. Scientists have hypothesized it could be something in their sweat glands, or residue from the coating that covers babies after birth.
Like new-car smell, new-baby smell is fleeting. But by the time it goes away, much of the biologically required bonding is already complete, and the biological underpinnings of the intoxicating smell have served their purpose.
You’ll have to go find a friend’s or stranger’s new baby to smell if you want another hit…