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 mom appears to be in a shower, cradling her newborn who still has their umbilical cord attached in the moments after birth, licking their sweet little head. If you’ve never experienced or seen this before, you might wonder why someone would want to do that.
Why Moms Would Lick Their Babies After Birth
“It makes sense since all other mammals lick their newborns,” Dr. Kim Langdon, MD, an OB/GYN tells Romper. “It may help with bonding and the breastfeeding process since the baby would feel the tongue and not just the holding or cuddling as a form of bonding.”
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. Not only does it allow a new momma to check on her baby’s vitals, but it also keeps away predators who might pick up on the scent of a newborn — and in some cases, sadly, 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. And in the study, “Oxytocin and early parent-infant interactions,” it shows that oxytocin (often referred to as the love hormone), helps to boost attachment between parent and their baby. That explains why skin-to-skin contact is so important in the immediate moments after birth, and done in conjunction with licking, it helps make your baby feel safe and secure.
Why More Moms Aren't Licking Their Babies After Birth
Now, if licking your baby after birth doesn’t seem too (ahem) appetizing, you shouldn’t feel badly about it. No two births are the same, and as such, you never know what your reaction might be. Still, you shouldn’t stifle the urge to lick your baby if that’s what you instinctively want to do. “In my doula experience, the actual licking is not that common, but I do wonder if it’s because many new mothers are suppressing the instinct,” Jada Shapiro, a postpartum doula and founder of boober tells Romper. “All mammals lick their young, but there is a strong motivation for humans to act differently than our mammal friends and not be seen as an animal.”
As for when a wave of desire to lick your baby might come over you, it’s probably going to be immediately after their birth. “The most common time you’ll see a lick is right after birth, where the birthing parent is still deep in the instinctive mode of childbirth,” says Shapiro, who claims that lots of women have had the urge to lick their babies. “The licks I have seen are light and small, almost little tastes that can be confused with a sloppy kiss.”
Licking can actually be beneficial for your baby’s skin and immune system as well. “It’s possible that there is some conferred immunity since there are antibodies in saliva, namely Immunoglobulin E (IgE) which can help ward off allergies,” explains Dr. Langdon. “By exposing the baby’s skin to IgE, it may help prevent rashes or other allergens from causing rashes.”
Licking Is An Alternative For Moms Who Might Plan To Eat The Placenta
And for the mommas who have plans to eat the placenta after their baby’s birth, well, licking their baby can be a comparable experience. “There are nutrients on the skin that were bathed in amniotic fluid,” Dr. Langdon explains. “This is similar to the notion that the placenta has nutritional value for some people who eat the placenta.”
While smooching your baby after birth doesn’t require following any specific guidelines, licking your baby afterwards definitely does. “We always recommend frequent hand washing and extreme care for infection control with newborns, particularly in the first three months, and especially in the first month,” Dr. Manasa Mantravadi, MD, a board-certified pediatrician tells Romper. “They do not have the immune system to protect themselves.” Even though licking can give your baby some much-needed antibodies, it can also leave them vulnerable to infection as well. That’s why you should make sure that your hands and mouth are as clean as possible, particularly if you plan to lick your baby.
Here's Where You Can Safely Lick Your Baby After Birth
So, if you’re going to lick your baby after birth, you need to know what areas are okay — and which are not. Dr. Langdon advises: “I would avoid the eyes, nose, mouth, and genitals,” she says. But even though you might worry about passing something along to your little one, you shouldn’t be, especially if you pick safe spots like the top of the head, or the tips of their itty bitty toes. “There is no way to eradicate bacteria from the mouth so I would not worry about it,” says Dr. Langdon. “Especially when you remember that the baby already came through the microbiome of the vagina and has likely been exposed to the same or similar bacteria.” And you should definitely stay away from your baby’s butt. “If you have the urge to lick your baby, consider avoiding licking any meconium (baby’s first stool),” advises Shapiro.
There is nothing in the world like the scent of a newborn. The smell is downright intoxicating, and no one will think twice if you want to nibble, kiss, or yes, even lick your baby. And while it may or may not be a part of a person’s birth plan, you should follow your maternal instincts and lap up your baby in love if you want to. Because when it comes down to it, licking is really just another expression of protection and love between a mom and her baby.
Scatliffe, N., Casavant, S., Vittner, D., Cong, X. “Oxytocin and early parent-infant interactions” 2019.
Dr. Kim Langdon, MD, an OB/GYN
Dr. Manasa Mantravadi, MD, a board-certified pediatrician
Jada Shapiro, a postpartum doula