Why some mums lick their babies after birth

Why some mums lick babies after birth

It’s a tender moment snapped just seconds after birth – a mum cradling her newborn, but instead of kissing her baby, this mum gently licks her baby.

The award-winning photo taken by Senhoritas Fotografia lifts the lid on a birth ritual still practised by some cultures, and something many mums admit they have the urge to do – licking their babies after birth.

Why some mums want to lick their babies

Birth Doula Flor Cruz says it’s perfectly normal to want to lick your newborn.

“Mammals are known to lick and clean their young immediately upon birth. This is done for a few reasons:

  • to remove the scent of birth to ward off predators
  • to consume all the nutrients of the afterbirth
  • to begin the socialising of the newborn
  • to ingest any bacteria that can signal mummy’s breastmilk to pass on antibodies to baby through her breastmilk
  • to bond with baby
  • to stimulate the baby to transition to life outside the womb

“Mammals still lick their newborns and eat the afterbirth. Except for most humans. But humans at one point in time used to exhibit all of these same behaviours. We have evolved since then and do not feel the need anymore to keep predators away,” she says in an Instagram post. “We stimulate baby in other forms and have other ways to do all the things we once worried about that triggered us to lick our babies so instinctively. Two cultures today can still be seen licking their newborns, the Tibetans and Inuit.”

Flor says that most of us still have the urge to lick our newborns, but resist and instead now smell them, shower them with kisses and hold them close.

“We have returned to consuming our placentas. All this also sends your body signals on what antibodies to send your baby through breastmilk, it stimulates your baby, bonds and socialises him. 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.”

If you’re delving into the world of newborns soon, our guide on 9 instinctive things newborns do straight after birth is a must-read.