You never know how you’re going to react the moment your baby is born. You might laugh, you might cry — you might even do both at the same time. But what about licking your baby? Yep, some new moms have an urge to lick their babies after birth, and it’s not as strange as it might seem. In fact, it’s truly an act of love.
Brazilian photographer Ludy Siqueira of Senhoritas Fotografia captured the above image of a new momma licking her newborn right after birth. The new mother looks to be taking a shower while holding her child, who is still holding onto their umbilical chord, and licking their adorable little head. You could be perplexed as to why someone would want to do that if you’ve never encountered or witnessed it before.
Although many people claim that their maternal instincts come alive immediately after giving birth, this doesn’t always happen, so don’t panic if you’re not one of them. But for some, one ancestral mammalian instinct overpowers many of the others: the urge to lick their newborn.
Yep, it’s a thing. A post on Facebook outlined the phenomenon, attributing the somewhat strange urge to the fact that humans are mammals and most, if not all, mammals lick their newborns clean post-birth.
Now, it’s important to understand why mammals lick their newborns after birth in the first place. In addition to making their baby clean (because birth can be messy), it’s meant to stimulate their breathing, Sciencing reported. It not only enables a new mother to check on her infant’s health, but it also deters predators from snatching up the scent of a newborn, and in some unfortunate situations, their next meal.
But beyond that, for both animals and humans, licking their baby after birth is a bonding experience. “According to one report, oxytocin is released by the baby after maternal licking, which reduces stress and improves bonding,” says Dr. Langdon. Additionally, it is demonstrated in the study “Oxytocin and Early Parent-Infant Interactions” that the hormone oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” promotes parent-child connection. That explains why having skin-to-skin contact soon after birth is so crucial; when done in conjunction with licking, it helps your baby feel secure and safe.
Think of it like this: Many moms report loving that new baby smell and will say they “want to eat their baby up.” Well, according to the post, that feeling—and the smothering of kisses that usually results from it—is a remnant of this maternal licking instinct that helped mammalian moms bond with their offspring and keep them safe from predators, among other things.
We think this is super interesting, but if you’re pregnant and thinking the urge might hit you when the time comes, you may want to talk to your doctor beforehand in case of bacterial transfer. Think back to all those body fluids. You might not want to be licking those up, to be honest. But if the temptation strikes, know that you’re not alone. After all, we are mammals.