Volatile signals during pregnancy: A possible chemical basis for mother-infant recognition

Stefano Vaglio, Pamela Minicozzi, Elisabetta Bonometti, Giorgio Mello, Brunetto Chiarelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human pheromones play a role in regulating relationships and apparently influence partner choice and mother-infant recognition. We analyzed the chemical content of volatiles from sweat patch samples from the para-axillary and nipple-areola regions of women during pregnancy and after childbirth. Solid phase microextraction was used to extract the volatile compounds, which were then characterized and quantified by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. During pregnancy, women developed a distinctive pattern of five volatile compounds common to the para-axillary and nipple-areola regions (1-dodecanol, 1-1-oxybis octane, isocurcumenol, α-hexyl-cinnamic aldehyde, and isopropyl myristate). These compounds were absent outside pregnancy and had slightly different patterns in samples from the two body areas. Differentiation of the volatile patterns among pregnant women may help newborns to distinguish their own mothers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-139
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009


  • Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS)
  • Human pheromones
  • Solid phase microextraction (SPME)
  • Sweat patches
  • Volatile compounds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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