New-Baby Smell Is Real

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If you’ve ever been around a baby, you may have noticed a distinctly pleasant odor wafting from it. It’s not baby powder, or scented wipes, or Johnson’s baby shampoo — but it’s also not, as you might have previously thought, a hallucination. A new study published in Frontiers in Psychology confirms that new-baby smell is real.

In a study of 30 women — half of whom had recently given birth, and half of whom had never given birth — all reacted to smells of newborn babies (taken from pajamas) with the same dopamine releases triggered by eating, ingesting cocaine, or similar "reward-inducing" behaviors.

We can assume the effect is an evolutionary advantage, but no one knows quite where it comes from —  i.e., what we're actually smelling. The scent is usually gone by the time the baby is 6 weeks old, which leads the study's author, Johan Lundstrom, to speculate that it could be remnants of the vernix caseosa: the white, cheesy, substance that covers babies when they emerge from the uterus. Or perhaps the lingering tinge of amniotic fluid. Either way, yum.

The Times points out that the olfactory sensations associated with babies vary from country to country: Scents marketed as “baby fresh” in Spain and France tend to be heavy on orange blossom, while in the U.S. we prefer vanilla and powdery aromas. But now that we're willing to eat placentas, maybe we can also embrace biologically accurate eau de baby?