• Chromatography Explores the Importance of Smell in Mother-Baby Recognition


Chromatography Explores the Importance of Smell in Mother-Baby Recognition

Nov 13 2019

The smell of a baby’s head is a smell that all new mothers and fathers find intoxicating. It is a warm, sweet and milky smell that is overpowering to new mums and dads. And it seems that the smell of a neonate’s head has special powers over and above making grandmas and mums go gooey eyed. Research suggests that the smell could be a trick babies use to thrive and survive - and a recent paper has shown how chromatography can be used to examine the power of the smell of a baby’s head.

Finding a way to thrive and survive

When a baby arrives, it can be a difficult time for all concerned - both parents and baby. The first few weeks can seem like a constant cycle of eating, sleeping and nappies. So, nature has created different ways to help forge a strong bond between baby and parents, particularly the mother who might be providing breast milk for food. And researchers believe that the smell of a baby’s head is one of the mechanisms that nature has created to make a strong bond.

Researchers have investigated how women react to the smell of new-born babies. Researchers compared the brain scans from new mothers and women who had not given birth when exposed to the scent of new born babies. The scans confirmed what we already know - the smell of babies elicits a response in the brain in women whether they have given birth or not. New born smells react as if they have been given a treat. But what is it that elicits the response?

Chromatography finds the smells

A team from Kobe University in Japan has been investigating the chemicals behind the new-born baby smell. And the results could help scientists understand more about the bonding mechanism between babies and their parents. The research also allowed researchers to develop a non-invasive method of sampling the odours from a baby’s head.

The paper was published online in the journal Scientific Reports and describes how the researchers trapped the odours using monosilica beads wrapped inside a net bandage and placed on the baby’s heads. The researchers then analysed the samples using tandem gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCxGC-MS).

Chromatography is a powerful analytical technique that separates mixtures into the individual components to allow researchers the chance to identify and quantify the components as discussed in the article Monitoring drugs in sport testing: an insight of current trends and recent findings from the Drug Control Centre, the UK’s Anti-Doping Laboratory. The team identified over thirty different compounds that go to make up the odour emanating from a baby’s head including aldehydes and carboxylic acids.

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