A new mum licks her newborn and causes much furore!
“Why in the world did she lick her baby? Is it safe to actually lick a newborn? Are there any benefits?”
These were some of the questions raised. But first, let’s get to what actually happened.
New Mum Licks Her Newborn
New mum Cátia from Salvador, Brazil, was so overwhelmed by her maternal insticts after giving birth to her son, Kirone, that she ended up licking the little one.
The tender moment went viral after it was captured by birthing photographer Ludy Sequeira of Senhoritas Fotografia.
For many of us mums, licking a newborn baby sounds just gross. Licking a newborn baby, however, is a common behaviour exhibited by most mammals. Humans seem to have evolved out of this though, and moved on to more sophisticated behaviour like kissing and cuddling.
But, did you know that the Tibetan and Eskimo (Inuit) cultures still follow this “licking” tradition?
Birthing expert and educator Flor Cruz has an interesting take on the whole issue.
She says, “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
- so as to consume all the nutrients of the afterbirth
- to begin the socialising of the newborn
- to ingest any bacteria that can signal mommy’s breast milk to pass on antibodies to baby through her breast milk
- in order to bond with baby
- to stimulate the baby to transition to life outside the womb”
“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, holding them close and we have returned to consuming our placentas.
“All this also sends your body signals on what anti-bodies to send your baby through breast milk, 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.”
Why (Most) Humans Don’t Lick Their Newborn Babies Clean
After Flor Cruz put out her views online, a lot of mums wrote in saying that they had all felt a similar instinct after giving birth!
According to neuroscientist Alex Korb, the habit of licking newborns is common among rats, and offers many benefits.
“It turns out that being licked by the mother releases a neurotransmitter called oxytocin, which reinforces the relationship between the mother and the baby, reduces stress, and changes which part of the DNA gets read,” he writes in Psychology Today.
He says that, “The babies of high-lickers turn out a lot better off than the babies of low-lickers”!
In fact, licking in mammals occurs “for a combination of reasons,” according to Lee Dugatkin, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Louisville and co-author of the 2017 book How To Tame a Fox and Build a Dog.
“One would be health-related — removing any nasty creatures on the surface of the skin, such as bacteria, viruses, that sort of thing,” Dugatkin tells HowStuffWorks.
Another reason would be for bonding with the newborn.
“It may be the start of a chemical recognition system between mothers and offspring. Licking is one way to get that sorted out. There are all sorts of bonding behaviours that go on between mother and offspring,” Dugatkin says.
Why then did humans evolve out of this behaviour?
It might be related to the physical development of the human body (yes, we have hands to clean), and to the kind of facilities we now have access to.
Dugatkin says, “There hasn’t been [evolutionary] selection for licking your offspring. We can clean without licking.”
“My guess is that we have so many other ways to get the benefits and information associated with licking. Visual and tactile senses in humans are very strong. We rely so heavily on… more sophisticated cognitive behaviour. My guess is that licking is not as useful.”
Sources: Psychology Today, HowStuffWorks
Image: Senhoritas Fotografia