PARENTS
08/13/2018 16:13 EDT | Updated 08/13/2018 16:51 EDT

There's A Perfectly Good Reason Plenty Of Moms Lick Their Newborns

A viral photo of a mom licking her newborn has other moms confessing their urge.

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Is there anything more delicious than a newborn baby?

That sweet, milky smell. Their squirmy legs and squishy faces. The little yawns and coos. No wonder people are obsessed with sniffing their heads and often threaten (jokingly? We hope?) to eat newborn babies right up. And let's be real, moms, who among us hasn't popped an entire teeny foot in our mouths, or at least been extremely tempted, while kissing our baby's perfect toes?

But if you've ever felt a strong urge to lick your newborn — or, heck, you've actually done it — a doula and childbirth educator in Long Beach, California, wants you to know it's completely normal because "you are a mammal." And now that a stunning photo and post shared by Flor Cruz on her Facebook page about the phenomenon has gone viral, other moms are admitting they've felt the urge to lick their babies.

The award-winning photo by Ludy Siqueira of Senhoritas Fotografia shows a new mom tenderly licking her newborn's head what appears to be moments after giving birth.

"Mammals are known to lick and clean their young immediately upon birth ... 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 and we have returned to consuming our placentas," Cruz wrote in the Facebook post.

"But some mothers still have the strong urge to lick their newborns. And they do just that. A physiological necessity. A calling from ancestors. Instinctual acts of love and ensuring the survival of young."

Mammals lick their young to ward off predators, to consume nutrients from the afterbirth, to socialize the newborn, to ingest bacteria for antibodies for the baby, to bond with the baby, and to help the baby transition to life outside the womb, Cruz said in her Facebook post.

It's not uncommon to see in home births

It's not uncommon to see moms licking their newborns or giving them deep sniffs in home births, Stephanie Alouche, a doula and the communication director for the Association of Ontario Doulas told HuffPost Canada in a phone interview.

Over the past decade of attending both home and hospital births, Alouche estimates she's seen mothers lick their newborns in about one or two births each year, she said. All but one were home births, and every birth that involved licking was uninterrupted, very hands-off and quiet, with minimal stimulation of the baby other than from the mother, Alouche said.

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"It's not what people think it is," Alouche said.

"It's almost like they're sniffing while holding their baby very close to them, and putting their nose down, and usually it's just somewhere along the top of the head, or the side of the face, and while they're sniffing them they'll lick them very gently, and it's not vigorous like you see with other animals. It's almost like a kiss, but with a little bit of a lick."

There's an urge to hold your baby close after it's born as part of the transition from it being inside your body to outside of it, Alouche explained. And sniffing our babies helps us recognize them, she added. Licking, then, could come from the innate need to know your baby.

"It's normal. It's as normal as wanting to hold your baby. If you feel the need come over you to lick your baby, I would hate for anyone to feel that there's some cultural standard that stands in the way of doing something that is so innate," Alouche said.

Other mothers have come forward about licking their newborns

Cruz knew the photo would go viral when she explained why the mother was licking her baby, she told HuffPost Canada in an online interview. Humans used to lick their babies (and some cultures still do), but have largely evolved away from this behaviour, Cruz explained.

"Once we understand why, we can see how relatable this photograph is. We all have moments of not wanting to put our babies down and placing our mouths on them repeatedly," Cruz told HuffPost Canada.

"If this mother followed her instinct to lick and so bravely broke the taboo barrier, other mothers were out there hiding in the shadows feeling ashamed for doing the same thing. And I wanted to bring normality to instinctual birth."

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Once Cruz posted the photo, she immediately received messages from women admitting they'd licked their newborns and felt ashamed over it, she said. Other mothers said they had been resisting a strong urge to lick their babies, she added.

"Some mothers think it's weird and gross, and that's OK too. I just wanted people to get a deeper view of birth," Cruz said.

The urge to lick isn't that unusual

The desire to "eat your baby up" or pinch its cheeks is perfectly healthy, and helps regulate a person's emotions in the same way that crying tears of joys does, according to a 2014 study. And previous research has shown that sniffing your baby activates a mom's rewards and pleasure centers in her brain.

As far as licking, parenting forums are full of posts from moms saying they've felt the desire. And many of the comments on Cruz's post are from moms who say they've felt, or at least understand, the urge.

More from HuffPost Canada:


"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. Now I don't feel quite so odd lol!" one person wrote.

"To the best of my knowledge, I didn't have the urge to lick my babies, but as it mentions in the post, I wonder if I subconsciously overrode that instinct by replacing it with more socially accepted kissing and smelling. I got curious and looked back on my birth photos to see if I ever brought my mouth to my baby, and sure enough, there are multiple photos of me doing this," another person commented.

"Is this why I have an urge to eat my babies? Anyone else? I know I'm not alone. I look at them and I just wanna nibble on their cheeks!" another person said.

Also on HuffPost: