When my baby was two weeks old my husband came home from work to find me in trance on the couch. My newborn had finished a particularly large feed and had fallen asleep with his little head on my shoulder, his mouth open as he gently exhaled his warm, milky breath right onto my face. With every exhale I felt a luscious sense of bliss wash over my body. I was inhaling each time he breathed out, literally swallowing as much of his smell as I could. My husband smiled and said, “You OK?” and I informed him I was positively drunk on our newborn.
At the time I knew in my gut there was some kind of science behind this. I assumed it was hormonally driven; no matter how little sleep I got or how much he cried all I had to do was shove my nose in his neck, inhale, and I was butt-crazy in love again.
According to NBC News, a new study published in Frontiers in Psychology showed a newborn’s smell taps right into the pleasure center of a mother’s brain. So cool! The study took two groups of 15 women, one group having given birth 6 weeks prior while the other group had never had a baby. The two groups were asked to smell pajamas that held a either a newborn’s scent or just fresh air while the researchers studied brain activity.
NBC News reported that all the women liked the scent of the newborn but “there was a difference on the brain scans between the new moms and the women who had never had a baby: as soon as the newborn scent was detected, the pleasure centers of the all the women sparked, but in the new moms they lit much brighter.” These pleasure centers in the brain are driven by a release of dopamine and the sensation is similar to eating after being hungry or the instant relief and pleasure one feels after feeding an addiction, hence my buzzed feeling after smelling milk breath.
There are obvious evolutionary advantages to this brain trick. After weeks of newborn drudgery full of cleaning bodily fluids and no sleep or baby smiles it can feel impossible to rally at certain moments. But one big whiff of your baby’s sweet milk breath and a mother finds reserves she didn’t know she had. I hope they’ll someday do a similar study to determine if Dads have a similar reaction to newborn smells or a study to see if the reaction in moms changes more than 6 weeks postpartum.
So I wasn’t totally crazy when I said I was intoxicated with my newborn. Smelling him is like a having a beer wrapped up in chocolate with a side of muscle relaxer. Mmmm mmmmm good.
Sources: NBC News
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