JUL 08, 2016 06:41 AM PDT

The Science Behind that Irresistibly Sweet Newborn Scent

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

If you've ever held a newborn baby, you know the baby has a highly distinctive and irresistibly sweet smell. This scent is not from any powder, wipes, or laundry detergent - it's the baby's own natural smell. And it's a powerful one too, especially for new mothers. What is the source of this scent and how does it help babies survive?

Scientists haven't pinpointed a single source for this smell, but they suspect it may come from exposure to the amniotic fluid, the protective substance that cushions the baby in the womb. Another source may be the vernix caseosa, a waxy substance that coats babies' skins when they're born.

But while scientists aren't sure how babies give off their delightful scent, they do know that adults are undeniably affected by the smell. In part, the smell helps parents bond emotionally and even chemically with their newborn. The smell, it seems, is nature's way to prime parents to nurture the baby and ensure its survival. Think about this next time you take a deep whiff of a baby's head.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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