Could smell help your baby ‘learn’ to breastfeed?

Research on mice suggests a mother’s ‘signature blend’ triggers a newborn to suckle


The idea that a mammal is simply born knowing how to breastfeed has been challenged by researchers.


A new study, carried out at the University of California, has found that mice pick up on their mother’s ‘signature blend’ of smell, prompting them to suckle.

The trigger for initial suckling in mice is mediated by the main olfactory epithelium (MOE) – the principal smell organ – located within the nasal passages. Without the MOE, newborn mice fail to suckle and will dehydrate, reports Science Daily.

The scientists were able to prove that a single chemical trigger doesn’t work for all newborn mice. Only when their own mother’s blend was detected, did the mice know to suckle.

The idea that odours can guide an animal’s behaviour could give scientists an insight into how certain activities are coded in the brain. Whether this is relative to humans, suggesting you have a unique smell only your baby can detect, is yet to be explored.


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