Babies smell so nice because they have evolved to help them bond with their mothers, research suggests. Picture: Public Domain Pictures
Babies smell so nice because they have evolved to help them bond with their mothers, research suggests. Picture: Public Domain Pictures

The sweet smell of baby scent: Now we know why they smell so good

By Colin Fernandez Time of article published Mar 4, 2020

Share this article:

London - Babies smell so nice because they have evolved to help them bond with their mothers, research suggests.

But while a newborn’s odour triggers maternal feelings of love, it is a different matter when they turn into teenagers.

The less appealing scent as children enter puberty encourages parents to keep their distance and helps them become independent, a study found.

The idea that babies generally smell pleasant and teenagers less inviting may seem unsurprising – but it is linked to the mother’s highly developed sense of smell, the German researchers said. She is capable of detecting in a sniff her child’s developmental stage.

Lead author Dr Laura Schaefer, of the Dresden University of Technology, said: "This study reveals that children’s body odours are an important factor affecting the mother-child relationship, and hints toward its importance for affection and caregiving."

The findings are based on 164 German mothers who were tested with body odour samples of their own children and four others of the same sex ranging in age from one to 18. The samples consisted of cotton T-shirts and baby suits that children slept in for one night.

Overall, mothers classified the developmental status of the child with an accuracy of about 64 percent. Mothers were asked to smell the fabrics, and identify whether it came from a child aged up to one, one to three, four to eight, nine to 13, 14 to 18 or older than 18.

They generally scored higher when identifying what the researchers called pre-pubertal odours, as opposed to those defined as post-pubertal odours. More pleasant smells were found to be pre-pubertal, even when they came from older children.

Stronger body scents were identified as coming from post-pubertal children.

Dr Schaefer said: "This suggests infantile body odours can mediate affectionate love towards the child in the crucial periods of bonding."

Post-pubertal classifications "could be interpreted as a mechanism for detachment, when the child becomes more independent and separates itself from parental care", she said.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers In Psychology, follows previous experiments by the same team using MRI scans to see how maternal brains react to baby odours.

These showed responses similar to studies that tested for reactions to facial cuteness. The research adds further to the evidence that smell is an important factor in the mother-child bond.

The team’s investigation into the effects of body odour on the psychological relationship between mother and child could have long-term clinical implications.

It is hoped that the research may lead to the development of nasal sprays that could help a mother suffering from post-natal depression to bond with their baby.

Daily Mail

Share this article:

Related Articles