MONTREAL, CANADA (CBS) – A recent study revealed why some new moms just want to “gobble up” any adorable newborn that crosses their path.
According to new research out of the University of Montreal, the smell of a newborn — any newborn — activates the neurological reward circuit in new mothers, the same circuit having to do with addiction.
To come to their conclusion, researchers had two groups of 15 women smell the odor of others’ newborns while subjected to brain imaging tests. Both groups consisted only of non-smoking women, but one group was made up of mothers who had just given birth 3-6 weeks previously, while the other consisted only of women who had never given birth.
According to researchers, though the women all smelled the new baby scent with the same intensity, the new moms had more brain activity in the dopaminergic system of the caudate nucleus, which is associated with reward learning and reinforces motivation to act a certain way because of the pleasure associated with doing so. Essentially, it is associated with the sating of desire.
“This [brain] circuit makes us desire certain foods and causes addiction to tobacco and other drugs,” says Johannes Frasnelli, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Montreal’s Department of Psychology. “Not all odors trigger this reaction. Only those associated with reward, such as food or satisfying a desire, cause this activation.”
Researchers say this study shows that the odor of newborns plays a role developing emotional and motivational responses between mom and baby and enforces the mother-child bond.
Still, it’s not known whether the response in new moms to the smell of infants is due to something organically related to childbirth, or whether it comes about because of the olfactory response beween mothers and their own babies.
“It is possible that childbirth causes hormonal changes that alter the reward circuit in the caudate nucleus, but it is also possible that experience plays a role,” says Frasnelli.
For more information on the study, click here.