London: Just like adults who cannot resist the smell of tasty food, hungry babies can too sniff out their mothers' milk, a new study has suggested.
Researchers from the National Centre for Scientific Research in Dijon, France, found that newborns are guided to their food supply by their noses.
And this is because tiny glands on the breast produce a fluid with a smell that hungry babies find irresistible, the researchers said.
In the study, newborns were found to feed more and put on weight more quickly when feeding from mothers who had lots of the glands, which are visible to the naked eye as small bumps around the nipple, a print media reported.
According to the researchers, the scent could be used to teach tube-fed premature babies how to breast feed. This would help them do better when they are eventually able to feed naturally, they said.
It was already known that the number of so-called areolar glands often increase during pregnancy, and that they sometimes leak small amounts of liquid. It had been thought the fluid was used to lubricate the skin, but now it seems it also whets the baby's appetite.
The French researchers, who reported their findings in a magazine, looked at 121 mothers and counted the number of glands on their nipples in the first three days after birth.
They then recorded how well the babies suckled, as well as how much they weighed. They also noted when the women started producing breast milk, rather than colostrum, the yellow "supermilk" which is made straight after birth.
It was found that women with more than nine of the glands per breast started to produce milk sooner than those with fewer glands, and their babies also gained weight more quickly. The effect was especially noticeable in first-time mothers, whose babies also fed more frequently.
The researchers said that first babies may be more reliant on nature's help to breastfeed simply because their mothers are less experienced.
They also showed that the smell of the liquid produced by the glands made the three-day-old babies want to suckle more.
Researcher Benoist Schaal said his discovery could have practical implications.
For instance, if he could bottle the chemicals key to the smell, they could be used to help train the mouth muscles of babies who are too premature or ill to feed naturally.
"It could help prepare the babies for the transition from tube-feeding to direct sucking on the nipple of a mother or bottle," the researcher added.