Does Anyone Ever Really Eat Up a Baby?

I just did it yesterday, this adorable little round-cheeked,  blue-eyed curly head poking up out of the blanket.  "I could just eat you up!"

How many times have we said that to a baby?  Well, it just might be in our genes.  Of course we're not going to eat a baby.  But what we mean is they'e so scrumptious and sweet, you want to do more than just hug or kiss them.  And that feeling makes us, well, feel great, too.

This reaction, which everyone has noticed or felt, could have biological underpinnings related to maternal functions, newswise.com reports.

It may well, indeed, be in our brains. “The olfactory—thus non-verbal and non-visual—chemical signals for communication between mother and child are intense,” newswise.com quotes Johannes Frasnelli, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Montreal’s Department of Psychology. “What we have shown for the first time is that the odor of newborns, which is part of these signals, activates the neurological reward circuit in mothers. These circuits may especially be activated when you eat while being very hungry, but also in a craving addict receiving his drug. It is in fact the sating of desire.”

A study done by his team showed that mothers actually picked up on newborns' smell -- not just their own's -- while women who were not mothers did not.  The mothers had a spike in their dopamine "and dopamine is the primary neurotransmitter in the neural reward circuit.”

This system reinforces the motivation to act in a certain way because of the pleasure associated with a given behaviour, newswise.com notes. “This circuit makes us desire certain foods and causes addiction to tobacco and other drugs,” says the researcher. “Not all odors trigger this reaction. Only those associated with reward, such as food or satisfying a desire, cause this activation.”

The odor of newborns "undoubtedly plays a role in the development of motivational and emotional responses between mother and child by eliciting maternal care functions such as breastfeeding and protection," according to newswise.com. "The mother-child bond that is part of the feeling of maternal love is a product of evolution through natural selection in an environment where such a bond is essential for the newborn’s survival."

It could be, too, that the mothers' reactions were triggered by hormones, scientists believe. ""It is possible that childbirth causes hormonal changes that alter the reward circuit in the caudate nucleus, but it is also possible that experience plays a role," says Frasnelli.

So next time you see a cute baby and want to gobble it up, remember -- it's just evolution talking.

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