A photo of a newborn on its mother's chest.
Photo: Andrew Zuckerman

The Unflappable Olfactory Bond Between Mother and Newborn

By Aileen Kwun
May 9, 2020
1 minute read

Smell is among the earliest senses that babies develop—long before they learn to walk, talk, or even focus their eyes to properly see, and, as it turns out, scent is also the primary, and primal, source of bonding and familiarity forged between newborns and their mothers. There’s a science behind this mysterious, unflappable olfactory bond: According to Smithsonian Magazine, this is a “carefully concocted perfume of biological manipulation, evolved to trigger maternal bonding.” Hospitals even give newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit a small piece of fabric scented like their mothers to provide a source of tactile comfort and closeness in those crucial moments when they can’t be directly bedside. As for mom, the scent of a newborn is not only deeply emotional, but visceral: Studies show that the scent of a newborn triggers dopamine pathways in a region of the brain that is associated with reward-learning—similar to the surge of pleasure that comes with satisfying a sexual craving or using certain drugs—and is felt even more strongly among women who are mothers than those who are not. (As if we needed another reason to get sentimental about our moms this weekend!) From all of us at The Slowdown, Happy Mother’s Day to you and yours.