Analyses of newborn babies' head odors suggest importance in facilitating bonding

September 27, 2019

A team led by Kobe University Professor Mamiko Ozaki (Department of Biology, Graduate School of Science) has become the first to identify the chemical makeup of the odors produced by newborn babies' heads. The results shed more light on the olfactory importance of newborns' heads in mother-baby and kin recognition. They also developed a non-invasive and stress-free method of sampling these odors directory from heads of the babies.

The research team consisted of professors and researchers from Hamamatsu University of Medicine, Iwate University, Tsukuba University and Kobe University. The study looked at both the chemical and psychological aspects of the odors of babies' heads and how this provides an important way for newborns to attract the attention of caregivers. Research into these odors can hopefully be utilized in the prevention of issues such as infant neglect and attachment disorders.

The scientific paper for this study was first published in English in the online journal 'Scientific Reports'.

Research aims and methodology:

The role of olfactory information in forming connections between humans is not well understood. Although there have been studies into the importance of olfactory cues in the formation and development of mother-infant relationships, there have been very few investigations to analyze and identify the essential chemical components of such cues.

The main aim of this study was to understand more about the odor produced by newborn babies, which may facilitate caregiving. The following research was carried out:The results suggested that the participants were able to distinguish between the odor samples (Figure 3). When the target odor was one of the mixtures based on the odor of babies' heads, the identification rate was over 70% for all participants. However, the identification rate for the amniotic fluid odor was lower than that (55%), and there was also a difference in the identification rate between female (73%) and male participants (36%).

Further Development:

The chemical analysis and olfactory recognition of babies' head odors in this study are potentially important contributions to the understanding of mother-infant bond formation and early non-verbal communication.

This research could be further developed by analyzing samples from a greater number of babies' heads. In addition, it may be worth investigating other factors, which can affect the odor recognizing ability of grownups, such as the marital status or child-care experience of the participants.

This research was supported by JSPS Kakenhi Grant No. JP18KT0033.

The following organizations provided technical support: GL Science Inc., Leco Japan Corporation and San Ei Gen F.F.I. Inc. The authors would like to thank Dr. Tristram Wyatt at Oxford University for his helpful reading of a draft of this paper.

Kobe University

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