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article imageMothers are more sensitive to the 'new baby' smell

By Tim Sandle     Sep 28, 2013 in Health
The brains of new mothers show a stronger response to infant body odor compared with the brains of women who aren’t mothers.
A new baby has a distinctive smell, which most people notice. For mothers, this smell triggers stronger feelings compared with women who have never given birth, NBC reports. To show this response, German researchers used a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show that the brains of new mothers are more responsive to this scent than the brains of women who are not mothers.
FMRI is a technology that measures brain activity by detecting associated changes in blood flow. This technique relies on the fact that cerebral blood flow and neuronal activation are coupled. When an area of the brain is in use, blood flow to that region also increases.
For the study, researchers recruited both women who had never had a baby and women who had recently become mothers (three to six weeks prior to enrollment). To test the responses, cotton undershirts worn by newborns unfamiliar to the women during the babies’ stay at a nursery were used as samples. The researchers passed clean air over the undershirts and delivered that air to the adult participants’ nostrils, studying their responses via fMRI. All of the women ranked the odors’ familiarity, pleasantness, and intensity comparably, and their brains responded to the scents in the same regions.
The research showed that new mothers’ brains showed significantly increased neuronal activation in those areas compared with the other women.
The research has been published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. The paper is titled "Maternal status regulates cortical responses to the body odor of newborns."
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