This totally makes sense to me, particularly if you are breastfeeding. Your newborn, with its fuzzy vision, is able to identify you by your smell and I always assumed it was mostly based on compounds from lactation. But, I'm pretty sure it goes beyond that to actual personal body scent.
I know this sounds really strange, but my kids, who are nowhere near newborn age and I'm nowhere near lactating, are always identifying my objects (clothes, pillow, blankets, etc.) with a declaration of "smells like Mom". And it's always said with a real fondness and joy in their voices that makes me believe it doesn't smell like Mom in a bad way.
Last night, as I was cuddled on the couch reading to my son, he buried his nose in my chest and declared the "smells like Mom" thing again and then dove in for a more pronounced sniff, like he was breathing in a rose. It was a little strange, but mostly funny and I just couldn't get past this whole idea of scent recognition. His reaction was one of comfort and happiness as if my pits were some sort of calming elixir.
So, I started thinking about how individuals have their own smell. Yet, I can't really identify anyone from their body odor, except my Mom, even to this day. Now, we must either be stinky people or I am experiencing a throwback to something that had a real and biological purpose somewhere in our mammalian ancestry.
One article that I read last month in the New Scientist describes the secret signals in human sweat, which contains more than 2000 different compounds.
Pheromones are something of a sensitive subject in human biology. Though they are found across the animal world from insects to mammals, research into human pheromones has been dogged by flaky experimental designs and dubious commercial endorsements, with the result that the entire field has a whiff of the disreputable about it. "It's not so much that the jury is out, but that the jury has been dismissed before the trial has begun," says Mike Meredith, a neuroscientist at Florida State University in Tallahassee, who studies animal pheromones.
In recent years, though, this has begun to change. Evidence that animal pheromones don't always work in they way we thought, backed up by a growing number of brain-imaging studies in humans, is convincing some researchers that we really do make and respond to pheromones. As a result some think it's time to stop asking if human pheromones exist and start investigating exactly how they affect our behaviour.
The research into how we can smell fear in sweat is really fascinating and some have even commented on its ability to be used as a weapon, joking whether the military was planning to use pheromones to send people "stampeding like spooked cattle".
But while the scientists are still trying to figure out what role pheromones play in human scent communication, do you have any experience with identifying people by scent? If you have kids, do they sniff you out too?