In a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers monitored the brain activity of 30 women who were asked to sniff pajamas worn by newborns. Half the women were new moms and half hadn’t had children, but in every case the brain’s reward center lit up, just as it would have if they had been consuming chocolate (or, uh, cocaine).
Scientists don’t know what causes the scent or how long it lasts in infants. “We think it consists of roughly 250 chemicals,” says study coauthor Johan Lundström, Ph.D., an associate professor at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia. Anyone can experience the mood boost that the aroma provides, but moms benefit in specific ways. “In mothers, the scent activates not just the reward center but also a part of the brain that controls feelings of attachment. We think it gives moms the urge to take care of their infants,” says Lundström.
The smell would make the ultimate Mother’s Day gift (eau de bébé, anyone?), if scientists could just figure out how to bottle it. Until then, try one of these picks.