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Body Odor In Babies: What Is Normal And How To Deal With It

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Babies usually have a distinctive body odor. They may smell of milk, baby products, or have a pungent or sour smell if their clothes are dirty or if not bathed on time.

As a mother, you may be more sensitive to how your baby smells. If your baby has a weird body odor, fruity odor, or smells unusual, seek a pediatrician’s help to determine the underlying cause of the baby’s particular body odor.

Read this post to know more about the causes of baby body odor, normal and abnormal odors in babies, and ways to deal with it.

Normal Types Of Body Odor In Babies

The following body odors are very common among babies, and you need not worry about it.

1. Milky odor 

Babies often smell of milk. The peculiar body odor fades away when your baby’s milk intake reduces, and they graduate to a solid diet.

2. Sour odor

Sometimes your baby might have a sour body odor, especially when they spit-up. Babies may have unpleasant body odor when the dirt and sweat are trapped in their underarms, neck area, or skin folds. The lack of proper hygiene can lead to fungal infection, irritation, and redness of the skin.

Common Causes Of Body Odor In Babies

Some of the common causes of baby body odor may include:

  • Pollution and heat
  • Dust
  • Dietary Imbalance
  • Dressing
  • Unhygienic surroundings
  • Sweat
  • Urine
  • Metabolic disorders

Abnormal Types Of Body Odor In Babies

If your baby has a weird body odor, it may indicate an underlying health problem, such as a metabolic disorder. Some abnormal body odors in babies are the following.

1. Fish odor

Babies with primary trimethylaminuria or the fish odor syndrome (FOS) will have a rotten fish smell in their breath, urine, and sweat. This is a genetic disorder caused by an enzyme deficiency that prevents their body from breaking down trimethylamine (1).

Trimethylamine (TMA) is produced in the intestine when foods, such as eggs, legumes, some vegetables, fish, etc. are digested by colonic bacteria. TMA diffuses through the intestinal tract membrane and reaches the liver where it is metabolized into odorless trimethylamine oxide (TMAO).

Babies with hepatic diseases, such as viral hepatitis, may have rotting fish odor since TMA is not metabolized into TMAO in their liver. Kidney disorders may cause fishy smell due to bacterial overgrowth in the intestine. Trimethylaminuria caused by hepatic or renal diseases is known as secondary trimethylaminuria (2).

2. Maple syrup odor

If your baby’s urine smells like maple syrup or cake, it can be because of maple syrup urine disease (MSUD). This is a rare genetic disorder due to the deficiency of an enzyme complex that breaks down certain amino acids (proteins) in the body. The accumulation of these amino acids and their toxic byproducts may give urine a distinct sweet smell. If left untreated, babies may develop neurological dysfunction and other neurological problems, such as seizures (3).

3. Musty odor 

Phenylketonuria (PKU) is a congenital metabolic disorder that causes your baby’s body to emit a musty odor. Babies with this genetic problem may have decreased metabolism of the amino acid called phenylalanine. If untreated, the accumulation of phenylalanine in the blood can lead to learning disabilities, behavioral problems, epilepsy, lighter skin color, tremors, etc. (4)

4. Fruity odor

Fruity-smelling breath is one of the indicators of diabetes type 1 in babies. The fruity scent occurs due to diabetes ketoacidosis (DKA), a complication of diabetes type 1 due to the buildup of ketones in the body. If left untreated, diabetic ketoacidosis can be life-threatening in babies (5).

5. Cabbage odor

Babies with tyrosinemia type 1 may have a cabbage-like odor. This is a genetic metabolic disorder where an enzyme deficiency causes the accumulation of amino acid tyrosine in the blood. If left untreated, this may cause developmental delays, liver failure, enlargement of the spleen, and other fatal problems (6).

6. Sweaty feet odor

Isovaleric acidemia and glutaric acidemia type II are disorders causing “sweaty feet” smell in babies. Although it is rare, you may have to distinguish these conditions from excessive sweating of the feet that itself results in the odor.

  • Isovaleric acidemia is a rare disorder caused by an inability to break down isovaleric acid. Its buildup results in sweaty feet odor and other symptoms, such as lethargy, failure to thrive, seizures, etc(7).
  • Glutaric acidemia type II (GA2) is an inherited disorder that interferes with the metabolism of fats and proteins in the body. This may result in sweaty feet odor in babies. The symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the disorder. GA2 could lead to lethargy, poor feeding, behavioral changes, and vomiting. The most severe form of the disorder is seen within the first four weeks after the birth, and the baby may have brain malformations, and heart and liver enlargement (8).

If you notice any of these or other strange smells, call your child’s doctor for advice. Keep in mind that most of these conditions are rare, and there could be another explanation for the smell. Unpleasant body odor due to poor hygiene alone can be dealt with improved personal hygiene.

How To Deal With Your Baby’s Body Odor?

Here are a few ways in which you can take into consideration if your baby has body odor:

  • Bathe the baby using baby shampoos
  • Always pat dry and apply moisturizer after bath
  • Use baby powders to reduce sweating. Ensure that the baby doesn’t inhale any of the powder.
  • Use waterproof baby feeding aprons while feeding
  • Clean baby’s face and neck after eating
  • Dress up your baby in light clothing during summer to avoid excess sweating
  • Always use clean and dry socks and shoes
  • Wash baby’s clothes often and dry them well
  • Change diapers on time
  • Wipe or wash and pat dry genital area while changing diapers

If your baby still has unusual body odor, consult a baby skin specialist and check for necessary cures. If your baby has an offensive or peculiar body odor, consult a doctor immediately. Do not panic, as early treatment and dietary changes can help your baby win the battle against unpleasant body odor.

References:

1. Trimethylaminuria (“fish odour syndrome”); National Health Service, UK
2. Jeffrey Messenger, et al.; A Review of Trimethylaminuria: (Fish Odor Syndrome); The United States National Library of Medicine
3. Maple syrup urine disease (MSUD); The National Organization for Rare Disorders
4. Phenylketonuria (PKU); National Health Service, UK
5. Signs of Diabetes in Toddlers, Babies & Infants; Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
6. Tyrosinemia type I; The National Organization for Rare Disorders
7. Isovaleric acidemia; The United States National Library of Medicine
8. Glutaric acidemia type 2; The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences