Every day, scientists are learning more about babies and what makes them tick. Find out how sweat, poop, and puppets are involved!
1. Their heavenly scent encourages you to protect them. It’s just kind of a given that newborns smell delicious, especially when you get a whiff of the top of their heads. Now there is scientific evidence to back up this commonly held belief. Researchers investigated how women—some mothers of newborns, and some with no children—reacted to the scent of a two-day-old baby (not their own baby, for those who did have infants). These volunteers’ brains were scanned, and they showed “activation in reward-related cerebral areas,” according to the study. In other words, sniffing that brand-new-baby scent triggered positive associations and feelings. The theory goes that those feelings motivate moms to bond with their newborns and keep them close—which helps babies stay warm and safe.
Scientists are not sure exactly how babies produce their special aroma. It could be sweat, or it could come from the vernix (the white, waxy substance that covers babies in the womb, and is usually washed off after they’re born). Wherever it comes from, it’s powerful, positive, and protective!
2. They redefine the words “smarty pants.” What’s the connection? Amazingly, there is one. Researchers examined fecal samples (yes, poop) from one-year-olds, then tested their cognitive development a year later. And the brainiest babies—the ones who performed better on those cognitive tests—had something in common: the bacteria found in their diapers! We all have a colony of bacteria, our “microbiome,” living inside of us. But everyone’s is different. It’s made up of various strains of bacteria, and varies based on diet, environment, and heredity. The babies in the study who had a relatively high level of one kind of bacteria were the same ones who scored high on assessments of their language development, motor skills, and perception.
This is the first finding of its kind, so scientists aren’t sure what the relationship might be. Maybe the babies with that bacteria strain also have fairly similar diets, and something they’re eating is boosting their brain development. Or maybe the bacteria are communicating with the developing brain, through a signaling pathway of sorts. That’s what the researchers are looking into next. At the same time, other scientists are busily investigating all the ways in which our body’s microbiome influences our health (and there are a lot). For now, keep feeding your baby a healthy diet, stimulating her brain through play, and yes—you’ll still have to change her diapers.
3. They know who’s the boss—and who’s not. We may joke about babies knowing who’s in charge (they are, right?!). But here again, research can demonstrate just how socially savvy toddlers really are. At 17 months, children in one particular study could determine who in a pair of individuals is more dominant. And they also expected that dominant person to receive rewards thanks to that position of power.
To figure this out, researchers showed the toddlers videos using puppets. (This kept the babies from being distracted by human faces.) One puppet earned a victory over the other by getting to sit in a special chair. This established that puppet as the dominant one. When videos then showed both puppets receiving a reward of Legos, the babies spent more time looking at them when the weaker, or non-dominant, puppet got more Legos than the stronger one—or even just the same amount. That longer looking time is a toddler’s way of saying, “Hold up: This isn’t the way I thought this was going to go.” Next, the researchers will look at how competence plays a part in making someone (or some puppet) seem dominant. We’ll be waiting for more confirmation that our little ones are even smarter than they seem!
Keep up with the latest baby content from Highlights. Sign up for our Your Baby and You Newsletter.