Women are reclaiming their primal urge to lick their newborn babies at birth, with more new mums practicing the incredibly intimate post-birth ritual.
While it’s common for mammals like cats and dogs to lick their young immediately after birth, it’s something most human mothers avoid. But according to birth educators, it’s a primal instinct that many mums still feel the compulsion to act out when they first hold their newborns.
Why do women lick their newborns at birth?
Doula Flor Cruz, who is passionate about sharing raw birth images to help normalise the birthing process, has shared a moving video of a mother licking her baby just moments after birth. She explains that it’s a perfectly normal primal response.
“Mammals are known to lick and clean their young immediately upon birth,” Flor explains.
“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 your body to pass on antibodies to baby through your milk
- 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, 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 mums actually do still have the urge to lick their babies after birth, but resist it, and instead have evolved the licking instinct into smelling, kissing and holding our babies, as well as consuming placentas.
“All this also sends your body signals on what anti-bodies to send your baby through your milk, it stimulates your baby, bonds and socialises them. But some parents 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.”
The urge to lick your newborn, explained by a mum
It’s not the first time that Flor has shared images of a Brazilian mother licking her baby. In 2018 she posted a photo taken by Senhoritas Fotografia of a mum licking her baby moments after birth. The image went viral.
The award-winning photographer called it a ‘transformative birth’.
“In 2016 I had the opportunity to photograph a transformative birth, the birth of Kirone. As soon as he was born, his mother Cátia, delivered at that moment, had the instinct to lick her baby when receiving it. This photo went viral on the internet and caused a lot of controversy. Many people assumed that they also felt like it, others said that they also licked their baby and several people criticised it.”
Cátia explained to the publication Crescer that she had previously lost a baby to pre-eclampsia, which left her traumatised.
“After all that, I was left with that feeling of a mother without a child,” Cátia explained.
“With milk in my breasts and no one to breastfeed. I felt like a female with all the conditions to have a baby and, even so, without him. That happened in 2011 and I only got pregnant with Kirone in 2015. For obvious reasons, I was very worried after everything that happened. I looked for a doula, watched many documentaries, participated in conversation circles about humanised childbirth and I was informed, aware, encouraged.
“When I took a moment to decide about this birth, I decided to have a normal birth again. I thought: ‘If the baby that came into the world dead, came in a normal delivery, I would want to have the pleasure of having my baby alive that way’. When Kirone was born, I was overcome with great emotion. Instinct came stronger. I was fulfilling the dream of giving birth to a live baby.
“I couldn’t find any other way to welcome him and tell him how much he was loved. That I was his mother, that I had just given birth to him. Licking him was an expression of all that welcome, after everything I had already lost. Luckily, Ludy was there to capture this moment. When I authorised her to share this image, I hoped to inspire other women not to give up on their dream of a humanised and respectful birth. When I had Kirone, it was as if everything I went through had new meaning. Within this service model, I had all the freedom in the world to express it the way I wanted. Grabbing, kissing, smelling and also licking my baby!”
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