The Power of Baby Scent

baby scentNewborn Babies smell so good. I always encourage new mothers to not use anything that has a fragrance or aroma on her newborn. I tell them to enjoy their baby’s scent. it can help prevent baby blues (postpartum depression). I always encourage them to wash their hair with warm water and soft washcloths with no soap. This also lets them keep their locks longer and that sweet aroma longer.

As this and other research shows, scent is a pretty powerful force, and one that seems to have a direct pathway to our brains. Scent has been shown to trigger memories, protect us against harmful toxins (such as when we smell food that’s rotten) and bind us to things we love, like a romantic partner and protects us from dangers, also toxic people or friendships.  And it seems to be something even infants can do is make us swoon over them.

Since we rely so heavily on our eyes, it is obvious why vision has a sense of greater tangibility. That is why we have “eyewitnesses” and not “nose witnesses”. But there is something mysterious about the sense of smell, in that you can’t always see what you smell. Smell is one of those things you perceive without a clear, volitional attempt to detect a stimulus. Because odors drift far from their source, carried along by air currents in the form of plumes, an odor can be detected long after the source has stopped emitting the odor, imbuing the sense of smell with an almost mystical attribute. It is actually divine. Along with this concept, Jewish Sages teach that our sense of smell did not fall in the Garden of Eden.  Our sense of smell is DIVINE! The sense of smell connects us to our Creator, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually as well.

The NOSTRILS (nose) are for smelling herbs and oils for healing oneself.  The Tanakh supports the concept that the sense of smell is undefiled and did not lose its divine potential from Gan Aden (Garden of Eden).  Gen 2:7 says “G-d formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed (נָפַח  naphach ) into his nostrils the Soul / Spirit-breath of life (Nishmat Chayim  נשמת חיים).  Man [thus] became a living creature (Nefesh Chaya נֶנפש חיה).”  Genesis 2:7.  Torah teaches that the human soul was infused to life directly from G-d’s innermost essence in the same way that a breath issues forth from a person’s lungs and chest cavity.  On the other hand, the rest of creation was created with speech.  Our nose was the only sense, of the five sense organs, that was not involved in the original sin of the garden and because it experienced the Holy Essence of G-d.  It is from the Garden, G-d allowed our divine gift of smell to remain intact and whole so we can smell out the herbs and oils we need to heal ourselves.

Previous research on the scent of a newborn has shown that babies show preference for clothes that have been worn by their own mothers and are calmed by the scent of their own mother’s milk (but not that of other mothers) when they’re in pain and distress, which is one reason why hospitals commonly place an article of mom’s clothing inside a pre-term baby’s incubator.

A 2001 study has also shown that infants are more likely to reach for pads that have been soaked with their own mom’s breast odor. A 2006 study even found that moms didn’t mind the smell of their own baby’s bowel waste (poop) as much compared to that of other babies. Now that’s real love.

So what exactly is it about infants that bend us to their will? There is no definite answer, but scientists have a few good guesses. “One theory is that it comes from chemicals secreted from a baby’s sweat glands,” George Preti, PhD, an analytical chemist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, told Women’s Health magazine. According to Dr. Preti, that smell only lasts about six weeks, because babies’ metabolism changes as they begin eating and drinking on their own instead of getting their nourishment through the umbilical cord.

Another theory, says Dr. Preti, is that the smell comes from the vernix caseosa, which is the whitish cheese-like substance that coats a newborn’s skin just after he enters the world. It’s typically washed off, but the scent may continue to linger on the baby’s hair and skin. When my babies were born and the midwife would wipe the baby with a towel then we would massage the leftover waxy mass into baby’s skin  and wrap baby in a blanket for skin contact and breastfeeding for the first time. The waxy afterbirth was a protection against germs, especially while in hospitals.- or even a birthing center.

Jewish Sages say that the smell of newborn is the smell of G-d’s essence that he breathed into man in the Garden of Eden.“Then Adonai G-d formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” – Genesis 2:7“…as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of G-d is in my nostrils” – Job 27:3 This is the smell of a newborn that is carried over into each one born. This must have been what it means when the Torah says “Children of G-d”.

Although the newborn scent will eventually fade, moms will tell you that they’ll continue to love the smell of their own kids. Many parents report loving the smell of their babies long into toddlerhood and beyond. And while it won’t last into days when your big kid comes home sweaty and gross after playing in the dirt with his friends, the memory of the baby smell isn’t likely to fade too soon. Mothers never forget that newborn smell.

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