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Have you ever had a deep desire to breathe in deeply when you’re holding a newborn? When you’re near a baby does a reflex seem to take over that’s even stronger than the urge to sniff a rose?

Don’t worry if you answered yes. You’re definitely not alone or even in the minority! What is it about babies that makes us want to just breathe in their scent? (Is there really something magical in the air?)

Although, if we’re being honest, sometimes the scent wafting from your newborn is not-so-sweet. So, what should you do if your baby doesn’t smell good for some reason?

We’ve done the research to bring you answers to these and many other questions about newborn baby smell.

Before we go any further, you’re probably dying to know what causes that newborn baby smell that lasts for only a few weeks. While no definite answer exists, there’s at least one theory about what’s behind this unique smell.

As anyone who has experienced birth can tell you, it can get messy. Newborns arrive after spending months floating in amniotic fluid, covered in the waxy white substance known as vernix caseosa.

Some theorize that these fluids and substances play a part in that new baby smell. This might be part of the reason that special newborn scent is fleeting, lasting only a few weeks.

A study from 2019 considered the scent of amniotic fluid compared to the scent of a newborn baby’s head and found that while some components were similar, the newborn scent featured more chemical elements and was individually distinct.

Indeed, whatever causes it, that newborn smell is powerful as an identifying marker. Believe it or not, in one very old study from 1987, 90 percent of women were able to identify their newborns by smell after only 10 minutes to an hour of time with their infant!

Baby smells make moms feel good

In addition to being an identifying feature for their parents, a 2013 study showed the scent of a baby triggered women’s dopamine pathways in the region of the brain associated with rewards. These are the same pathways that are triggered by things like the smell of delicious food or satisfying a food craving.

In their research, scientists found that those women who were mothers had a stronger reaction in their brain to the newborn scent than those who were not mothers. This has led to the potential theory that a hormonal change may occur in the brain during the labor process.

Another theory is that the act of smelling their own baby triggers this stronger response. Scent and memory can have powerful connections, as anyone who has caught a whiff of a particular smell that suddenly inspires powerful connections to the past can attest.

No matter whether it’s labor causing a chemical change or just memories of experiences with their own baby, researchers believe that this dopamine high is beneficial to helping mothers get through the exhaustion of caring for a newborn.

Every once in a while you may go in for a baby sniff and discover that the smell awaiting you isn’t the heavenly one you expected.

When this happens, you’ll want to take a moment to figure out the root cause, so you can get your sweet-smelling baby back again ASAP!

Some potential causes of unpleasant baby odors include:


Newborn babies tend to poop a lot, and while newborn poop isn’t the stinkiest of poop, it can still tickle your nose in an unpleasant way.

The solution? A diaper change! (If you need a quick review course on how to properly change a diaper, we’ve got you covered.)

In addition to changing the diaper, you’ll also want to make sure that it’s properly disposed of, so you don’t have to continue smelling it. (Need a new diaper pail? We can help with that, too.)

One more word of caution. Newborns are prone to epic-level, blowout poops that travel all the way up their back. (It’s not uncommon for poop to even find its way into their hair.) These poops may require a bath (and a load of laundry!) in addition to the diaper change.

Milk or formula residue

Between milk dribbling out the side of your baby’s mouth during feeds and spit-ups that occur frequently after you feed your baby, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you might get a whiff of some sour milk smell occasionally.

Even if you give them a quick wipe after feeds, the drips can collect in those adorable wrinkles and rolls on their neck and body.

The solution? Bath time! (If you’re in need of a reminder of proper baby bath time procedures, check this out.) Just remember, give baby sponge baths only until their umbilical cord falls off all the way.

Introducing solids

Once you introduce solids when your baby is around 6 months old, you may notice that your child’s poops take on a stronger odor. You may also find that your child has larger poop and in a range of colors based on what foods they have been eating.

The solution? You’ll need to change your baby’s diaper right away every time they poop.

You’re definitely not alone if you find yourself transfixed by new baby smell. In fact, as the babies in your life age, you may find yourself missing it so much you wish you’d bottled it up.

Don’t worry, if you haven’t got a baby in your life right now, or forgot to bottle up the scent while your babies were newborns, there are actually companies who’ve taken care of it for you!