Cats do it. Horses do it. In fact, most mammals lick their babies straight after birth. But humans don’t. Well, not many of us do anyway.
However, a beautiful birth photo from Senhoritas Fotografia demonstrates that, in some cultures, licking your newborn straight after birth is actually the norm. There are two cultures that still lick their babies after birth – the Tibetans and Inuit.
And, it actually kind of makes sense. Sure, it seems a bit odd and kind of icky (I mean, you do know where the baby has been, right??). But hear us out.
There are a few different reasons why mammals are known to lick their babies at birth.
To remove the scent of birth to ward off predators. Okay, so no wolves are roaming around the birth suite ready to consume your infant, but, hey, it makes sense.
To consume all the nutrients of the afterbirth. Perhaps the white vernix is full of protein?
To begin the socializing of the newborn. Licking baby can help stimulate the transition to life outside the womb.
To help with breastfeeding. According to Sciencing, “By licking the newborn’s face first, mothers make sure the baby’s nostrils are clean. In addition to stimulating respiration, the licking of the newborn’s face also tends to stimulate a sucking response.”
To bond with baby. According to an article in Psychology Today, “being licked by the mother releases a neurotransmitter called oxytocin, which reinforces the relationship between the mother and baby, reduces stress, and changes which part of the DNA gets read.
So why don’t we lick our babies anymore?
According to Badass Birth Mother, while it’s a natural instinct for all mammals to lick their babies at birth, we human folk have since evolved.
We do not feel the need anymore to keep predators away. We stimulate babies 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.
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 and holding them close.”
Licking our newborn babies after birth is considered instinctual, in the same way, that consuming the afterbirth is. And while many mums would rather lick a boot than eat their placenta, plenty of parents have returned to this natural practice and will eat the afterbirth, normally through encapsulation.
But some mothers still have the strong urge to lick their newborns. And so they go ahead and lick. Call it bonding, call it instinct, call it survival, call it love.
And, if it’s not for you, then don’t call it anything at all and simply don’t do it. I find it fascinating – and although I won’t be licking any newborns anytime soon, I love seeing how different cultures bond with their babies.
Your birth. Your choice.
Of course, there are plenty of interesting birthing rituals around the world. Check out some of the unique places mothers have chosen to give birth (or unexpectedly gone into labour).
We also love these incredible images of a nine-year-old boy supporting his mum through labour. Again, some people find this a bit strange, but for this family, it was what they wanted to do. And we love that journey for them.
Check out this lovely family birth story too where dad was the main support person for his daughter during labour.