“Oh, that baby is so cute, I could eat him up!”
“She is such a delicious baby.”
These are things all of us have said or heard at one point or another in reference to a squishy little munchkin. And although no one in their right mind would go ahead and eat or actually bite down on a baby, there is something to be said for the urge to consume the sweet cuteness of a newborn in some way.
I mean, that new baby smell, those chunky little thighs. I’m salivating already.
Well, apparently some parents actually act on their impulses here – at least in some ways. It turns out that licking your newborn is a thing, and although clearly not everyone does it, more people partake in the act than you might think.
Recently a picture of a woman licking her just-born baby went viral on Facebook and Instagram. The photo, originally snapped by maternity photographer Ludy Siqueira of Senhoritas Fotografia, was posted on doula and childbirth educator Flor Cruz’s Facebook and Instagram handles, where it went viral.
It’s a raw, “in-the-moment” pic of a mom who just birthed her baby – and who also happens to be giving the baby what looks like an instinctual, happy lick. (It should also be noted that the mother appears to be in a shower so it stands to reason that least some of the newborn junk may have been washed off the babe.)
In her post, Cruz goes on to explain that this sort of practice is pretty common, and actually quite natural. After all, says Cruz, “[m]ammals are known to lick and clean their young immediately upon birth.” She says that mammals do this for various reasons – including to remove that newborn scent in an effort to ward off predators; to consume the nutrients of the afterbirth; to bond and socialize with their babies; and to ingest their baby’s “flora” so that antibodies can be passed on via breastmilk.
Of course, Cruz contends, we are civilized human mammals who don’t live in the wild. But that doesn’t mean that our instincts to act like mammals aren’t intact – and why many mothers do, in fact, have an urge to lick their babies. And why some moms even follow through.
“Most of us have the urge to lick but resist the urge to do it and we have evolved our licking instinct into smelling our babies, kissing them vigorously, holding them close,” says Cruz.
Well, that makes a whole lot of sense to me. I don’t think there’s a mom out there who hasn’t kissed, sniffed, and basically smushed her face right up against her baby. I know I did. If you look at it that way, licking your baby doesn’t sound that odd, does it?
Cruz also says that the desire some of us have to consume our placentas is part of all this whole thing. And while I say “to each their own” about that the licking part, I personally feel very different about ingesting my organs. (Cue the gag reflex.) But I digress…
It turns out Cruz is not the only expert who has noticed that mothers lick their newborn at times. I pulled out my trusty old copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 8th Edition by La Leche League, where the authors discuss licking your baby as a way to get a reluctant infant to latch onto the breast.
“All mammals lick their babies after birth,” they write, “not only to clean them but also to stimulate their breathing, digestion, and neural responses.” They add that among the mothers who have done this to aid in latching issues, their babies “have responded surprisingly well.”
Who knew? I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with licking a newborn. It’s not something that ever occurred to me, but aside from the “ick factor,” I probably wouldn’t have hesitated to do the same myself if the urge had come over me.
And I think back on how much licking my babies did as they tried to find my good old nipple, so it just seems fine that I would give them a quick little lick back, as a kind of “good job, kiddo.” Or something like that…
Some of the commenters on Cruz’s thread seemed to have a major problem with the whole thing, mostly due to the fact that newborns are often covered in poop and vernix and all kinds of good (gross) stuff. But tons of moms – even if they didn’t personally lick their babies – totally got it, and loved the idea.
“Wow, this explains my odd but strong urge to lick my baby clean when she’d just been born. I didn’t, and haven’t told many people about it, but the urge was there,” wrote one Facebook commenter. “Now I don’t feel quite so odd lol!”
“Many times I heard mothers telling me that they had the urge to lick their baby but where concerned to look completely stupid in from of Doctors, Nurses or Midwives,” wrote another.
“I’m so glad to see this picture, as it gives women permission to follow their instincts. And that is what birth is all about!”
Yes, that is what birth is all about, isn’t it? Following our instincts, loving on our babies, and feeling empowered to be ourselves and do whatever we want.
Listen, licking your baby definitely might not be your cup of tea, but as far as I can tell, there is definitely no harm in it. Most of us will probably stick with kissing and nuzzling our babes, but if you have the instinct to lick your sweet thing, there seems no reason why you shouldn’t go right ahead. It’s only natural, after all.