Thursday, May 16, 2013

Scratch and Sniff

Don't you love that newborn smell?

No, not the smell of spit up or dirty diapers.  Just that fresh from the womb smell.  I love it.  I can't get enough. I can remember when Whit was first born Kirk said "He smells so good! He's like the perfect combination of you and me!"  I think I may have spent the majority of Eilidh's first days or even weeks in this world smelling her.

When my aunt and uncle were visiting and Aunt Pam was holding a fussy Eilidh, she said "I think she just wants to smell you." Sure enough, when she snuggled her head in my armpit, those eyes closed and she went right to sleep. 

So that got me thinking... is there a scientific reason for that?

Higher estrogen levels during pregnancy lead to an increased sensitivity to scents.  Although estrogen levels fall after birth, that sensitivity to pheromones sticks around. But why?  Perhaps during pregnancy it protects a woman by steering her clear of spoiled food, smoke and chemicals (this is the average baby website answer).

More likely it's much deeper.  Pheromones are produced by both mother and fetus during pregnancy.  After the birth, the baby (who has been smelling Mom's amniotic fluid for months) recognizes her mother by scent first.  As their relationship outside the womb continues, the baby begins to recognize the scent of her mother's milk and sweat, especially from under the arms (not as gross as it sounds!) the closest sweat glands to her face while nursing. Since babies are genetic combinations and variations of their parents, the pheromones given off by each are similar meaning that baby can recognize Dad (and Dad can recognize baby) by scent also.  These pheromone bonds, especially the strong ones, can last a lifetime.  They have been shown to influence the person a son or daughter chooses to start a family of their own with.

Since I love the way a new baby smells, the first thing I did when I picked up my nephew was lean down and smell him. Whit was pretty fresh himself (just over six months old)so even though E smelled good, my body reacted and my brain immediately sent the message "This is NOT your baby." 

Sure, smelling your kid may be a bit animalistic.  But in all reality, we are animals...albeit intelligent ones.  Newborn puppies would die if they couldn't smell their way to their mother's milk.  Luckily we don't have that problem.  But allowing baby to smell you, wearing your baby so that you can smell each other and leaning down to smell the top of their head while they are nursing, reinforces that pheromone bond that you spent nine months creating.  There's even research that shows encouraging your older children to smell the baby's head (where most pheromones are given off for the first few months) can increase sibling bonding. 

Forget perfumes and strong smelling soaps - that natural smell is what baby wants.

So the next time you see a baby, let that inner animal out.  Go ahead and smell it.  I'll even let you sniff mine if you want. 

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