Scientists unlock what makes babies' heads smell so good

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

There's nothing quite like the smell of a newborn baby's head. That distinctive, yet hard to articulate, scent has been described as intoxicating and addictive - and scientists are now discovering why.

As part of a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports, a team of researchers collected fresh baby smell after birth to determine the chemical make up of odours produced by newborn babies' heads. (No babies were harmed while procuring said scent).

"We successfully collected fresh odours of newborn babies immediately after birth by using MonoTrap silica beads," the authors write. "During odour sampling, no baby cried or fretted but remained rather relaxed or even sleeping in the bed or its mother's arms." Samples of the mothers' amniotic fluid odour were also taken.

And here's what they found.

The authors note that the 'odour profiles' of babies one and two, which were collected within an hour after birth, looked less similar to each other than those of babies three, four and five, which were collected two to three days after birth.

In other words, babies are born with their own unique smell.

"This suggest that a baby can strongly express its individuality through the odour soon after birth compared to a few days later," the authors note.

Now, if you want to DIY and make your own, sadly, the researchers didn't release a full recipe. That said, we're told the magic potion contains: "large amounts of nonanal and other aldehydes (heptanal and octanal), and carboxylic acids (valeric, hexanoic, heptanoic, octanoic and nonanoic acids) in case you have any of those chemicals kicking around in your shed.

But quite apart from discovering the chemical mix of that intoxicating new baby scent, the researchers say their findings have important implications when it comes to understanding mother-infant bonding and early non-verbal communication.

"Newborn babies are limited in their capacity for meaningful communication," they write. "However, they can cry and also emit their own odours even immediately after birth. Acoustic stimulation with the cry of a baby emotionally influences mothers, and it also seems very likely that the baby odours may have a psychological effect on mothers."