Embrace…That New Baby Smell

We have all heard about new car smells, but what about new baby smells?

You know, that earthy, new baby smell, that one that causes dopamine to release in your brain and makes you feel so good – what is it?  Smell can be the most potent sense to strike up an emotional response. 

So, what exactly is that new baby smell?

The smell of a newborn is likely thought to be a combination of chemicals secreted through sweat glands, lingering amniotic fluid and vernix caseosa, the white cheese-like cream that covers babies at birth; all this combined, is thought to create a combination of intoxicating medley aroma that nature designed to pull you in.  Whatever it is, that distinct smell provides a pathway to our brains and to ultimately our hearts and binds us to that little life in front of us.

Although the newborn scent eventually fades (usually around six weeks of age) many parents (including this one) are known to take a deep whiff of their child’s head (regardless of their age) and savor the unique scent and comfort it provides you.

Delayed Bathing

In the past, many hospital births resulted in baby being bathed and cleaned immediately after birth.  This is still policy in some hospitals.  However, these days we are beginning to understand why delaying a bath and leaving the vernix on baby is important.  The World Health Organization recommends delaying the first bath until at least 24 hours after birth.  The longer you wait on the first bath, the better.

Delaying the baby and leaving the vernix caseosa intact, helps contribute to that new baby smell, but it also acts as a natural moisturizer and barrier on baby’s skin.

Delaying the infant bath allows mother and baby time to bond, allows for skin to skin, and increases the likelihood of initiating breastfeeding.  It also keeps that precious vernix where it belongs, on your baby.

Mother / Infant Bond

Studies show that all mammals use their sense of smell to create that mother/infant bond.  Not only do we react to baby’s scent, studies also have shown that babies also react to their own parents’ scents.  Babies show a preference for clothing worn by their parents, usually if it has the scent of their milk on it.  The odor of mother’s breast milk on preterm babies especially seems to have a calming effect and can be used as a safe method for pain relief.

According to a 2021 study, “babies are more socially receptive to unfamiliar women when they can smell their mother’s natural body odor, suggesting that maternal scent functions as a safety signal.” This study was done using a t-shirt that mothers were instructed to bring home to sleep with and then return to the test site. Infants that weren’t with their mother, but were with their mother’s t-shirt showed the same receptivity to the stranger they were with that they did with their mother. 

An additional study “assessed the responsiveness of newborn breast- and bottle-fed infants to presentations of maternal odor. Maternal odor was presented for 1 min to crying, sleeping or awake newborns. The odors were: (1) own mother’s odor – presentation of a hospital gown worn by the baby’s mother, (2) other mother’s odor – presentation of a hospital gown of another newborn baby’s mother, (3) clean gown – presentation of a clean hospital gown and (4) no gown – no gown presented. The results indicated that crying babies stopped crying when either own mother or other mother odor was presented.”

Is that amazing?! Scent holds so much power! And it’s one of the reasons that babywearing is such a powerful tool for bonding. 

Babywearing and Smell

One of the biggest safety tips for carrying babies is that you keep your little one “close enough to kiss”. But we could also say, keep them close enough to smell! You being able to smell your baby and your baby being able to smell you creates a closeness and a sense of comfort for both caregiver and child. 

There are so many benefits of babywearing, and being able to cherish that new baby smell in the first few weeks is just the cherry on top. 

  • Strengthens the bond between parent and baby, as you maintain a closeness throughout your day, especially during the “4th trimester.”
  • Carried babies cry less. Researchers found that babywearing for three hours a day reduced infant crying by 43 percent overall and 54 percent during evening hours.
  • Mothers providing daily skin-to-skin contact to their newborn had significantly lower scores on the depression scales.
  • Aids in baby’s development, both physically and emotionally. 
  • Helps mothers respond to their babies. 
  • Helps mothers meet their breastfeeding goals. 
  • Decreases risk of SIDS and flat-head syndrome
  • Improves overall maternal physical health (decreased sleep disturbances by 18% and gastrointestinal problems by 26%)*
  • Promotes early language development. Babies learn by watching faces, and babywearing puts your little one at conversational height- “the best seat in the house.”
  • Allows parents to see more of the world through baby’s eyes. And your babies get to discover their new world from the safety and comfort of your body.
  • Fosters a closeness through toddlerhood. Toddlers can be worn too, reminding them of their “home base,” and allowing that bond to continue as they grow.

So get out there and start sniffing it up.  The smell will fade but your memory of it will not.  And if you’re about to give birth remember what nature intended and the World Health Organization recommends, wait to bathe and enjoy the new baby smell.

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Jennifer Lezak is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. She studied and received her training at UCSD, close to where she grew up in San Diego. She mentored under several very experienced IBCLC teachers in different areas of practice in various hospitals and private practices around Southern California. Currently, you can find Jennifer through her private practice Milkmade LA, Loom – a hub for new parents, and Kaiser Permanente on Sunset Blvd. Jennifer Lezak regularly attends conferences and workshops to keep her knowledge and skills current. She has worked at several hospitals around Los Angeles, including Cedars Sinai Hospital and Good Samaritan Hospital and has spent many years in Private Practice. She offers her services in Private Practice visiting clients at their homes, also with many local OB Doctors, Pediatricians, and clinics around Los Angeles in their offices. Before she found her calling as a Lactation Consultant, she received a BA from SDSU in English Literature. The proud mother of two boisterous young boys, ages 8 and 10, she understands the fears that go along with becoming a new parent as well as the challenges that parents face as their families expand. Jennifer loves helping new parents not only successfully breastfeed, or help to support breastfeeding, but to also manage the daily tasks of surviving motherhood while also finding a balance with their family’s every changing needs. Through Jennifer Lezak’s work she hopes to nurture a community where new mothers can find answers, become empowered, and form lifelong friendships.


September 18, 2019