Photo: supplied

I’ve had a terrible time of it the last month.  I got a cold sore on my eye, delivered with precision from my wonderful 3 year old and 11/12th month old.  I’ve never had them before so of course I got the full systemic delightful affect.  I can only say that I’m so glad I’ve haven’t had to put up with them before and “oh my gosh” I never knew how painful they were, to all of you out there who have had them before!

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.  I was telling my very informative Dad, who is an amazing GP, how of course when I was sick, my two lovely children woke up more, played up more and gave me a hard time.  He reminded me about something that he had told me when my first child was a baby.

Babies react to our smell!

I would like to say that I smell like roses all of the time, but this is not what he was getting at.  Humans release a chemical from under their arms when they are stressed or anxious.  Researchers from Stony Brook University in New York undertook a study and found that people become more alert to threats when inhaling this “stress sweat”.

[1]  It is interesting to note, that they found that this chemical didn’t have any obvious smell and the smell we usually associate with underarm smell is actually from the growth of bacteria.   So we may not even know that we are doing it.  If we think about what this means to our little babies, we can start to understand the significance of this information.

Our little babies are relying on us to keep them safe and sound, when they smell this “stress sweat” on us, they start to become more alert to danger and they will begin to feel stressed themselves.  This can put them into a fight or flight response, redirecting resources away from systems like digestion and creating stress induced changes to the gut.  So what does this mean on the ground?  Little bubs may cry more to be picked up, they may exhibit signs of colic, reflux and/or gut pain.

The reality is that caring for a little baby can be very anxiety provoking.  So what can we do to change this situation?  Well of course trying to become less stressed or anxious is an important start and I’ll outline some techniques for this below.  But… if you think you may be releasing “stress sweat” and it is affecting your baby then simply have a shower, change your clothes and put on some good deodorant or essential oils! It can be that easy.

Dad shared with me a beautiful case study of a woman who was beside herself as her little one had reflux and none of the medication seemed to be working.   Dad asked her what happened when her baby was being looked after by her grandmother and she mentioned that the symptoms seemed to settle.  He explained to her about releasing chemicals when we are stressed and to try to make sure she showers, changes her clothes regularly and uses a good deodorant.  She came back the following week and her baby’s symptoms had largely disappeared! 🙂 There was no need for any of the medication she had previously been giving her bubs.

It may not be the whole picture about why our babies are upset, but it is good to be mindful of this and give it a try when things get a little stressful.

Techniques to help with stress and anxiety:

  • Yoga and meditation
  • Exercise; 20 minutes of aerobic exercise daily. i.e. heart rate over 120 BPM
  • Deep breathing
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Chamomile tea
  • Walking in nature

And if things are too much, picking up the phone and calling a friend or loved one is very important.  Or make sure you speak with your practitioner or GP about how you can be supported during stressful and difficult times.  Remember you are not alone.


If your baby will not settle and you suspect something is wrong, make sure you speak with your doctor.  This alone can also settle anxiety.


Pip Atherstone-Reid is an Owner and practitioner at Kundalini House.  She has been practising Chinese Medicine for over 15 years and has two beautiful little children.