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It's science: Wanting to 'eat' your baby makes you a better parent

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Babies. Adorable, chunky babies. Rolls and rolls, folding over and under one another. Drinking in all that delicious newness just makes us want to hold them and take care of them at this little stage of life, forever.


Honestly, we all know the urge to just squeeze them. So, so scrumptious—it's all we can do not to chomp down on those plump little thighs with all those tempting rolls. Doing our best to resist our desire to bite our baby, we can find ourselves wondering, Is this normal?


Rest assured, mama, your urge to devour your baby—or your toddler, or your husband or your friend's baby, for that matter—is backed by evolution, biology and plenty of research. Not only is it normal, it's healthy.

Babies are designed to help people to fall in love with them. Ginormous eyes and bitty noses above rosebud lips, chubby necks, squishy arms and legs, all add up to pure sweetness—making us want to take care of them and yes, even eat them, too.

These compulsions are part of an evolutionary bonding mechanism and signify positive emotions and healthy attachment, in addition to helping us decrease our stress levels by releasing pent-up energy and emotional overload. Several studies have provided insight into the biological foundations of human caregiving and a neurobiological explanation for why we feel these urges.

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In short, we are hardwired to be drawn to, care for and "want to eat" anything that looks like a baby.

Evolution and science conspire to make us chomp

Ethology is the study of human behavior and social organization from a biological perspective. It's also the field of science in which it is proven that babies are cute for a reason—to attract us and make us want to care for them.

Cute physical characteristics are defined by ethologist Konrad Lorenz as "baby schema." Over the eons we have come to subconsciously associate round faces, large eyes, big foreheads and small chins as cute, or "baby." Just look at dolls, cartoon characters (like Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse), advertising, and even car designs—hello, Volkswagen Bug—to see Lorenz's theory IRL.

In a submission to the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), a team of researchers tested the impact of baby schema on the perception of cuteness and the motivation for caretaking in 122 undergraduate students. Using morphing techniques, they manipulated photographs of 17 infant faces to produce images of high baby schema, or "cute" (round face, high forehead, big eyes, small nose and mouth), and low baby schema, or "not cute" (narrow face, low forehead, small eyes, big nose and mouth).

The students viewed both categories, along with the original portraits of each infant, then rated the infants' cuteness and how much they were motivated to take care of them. Portraits with the most baby schema (babies rated "cutest") correlated with the strongest impulse to cuddle and provide protection and care to the infants.

Interestingly, other studies have indicated that women tend to be more interested in infants and caretaking activities than men. Based on this, the scientists further hypothesized that women would have a higher response to baby schema than men. So in their next study, the researchers set out to determine the neural basis of this altruistic maternal instinct.

In this second study, 16 women who had never given birth were chosen to view a random sequence of the same set of infant faces from the first study while their brain activity was measured. During the session, the women rated the pictures for cuteness.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map their brain activity, researchers were able to see that regardless of whether the women were the babies' mothers, higher baby schema activated the mesocorticolimbic system, which is the neural network affiliated with reward. The release of dopamine—the feel good hormone—from the mesolimbic pathway into the nucleus accumbens regulates motivation and desire and facilitates reward-related motor function learning.

The scientists surmised that perceiving high baby schema infants as "cute" presents a positive incentive, via the surge in dopamine, that provides the motivational drive for caretaking behavior. This engagement of the mesocorticolimbic system proves a biological foundation for human caregiving by providing a neurobiological explanation as to why we feel the urge to care for anything that resembles a baby.

From an evolutionary standpoint, being hard-wired to respond to baby schema in babies other than our own is adaptive, "as human ancestors likely evolved as cooperative breeders with a social system characterized by the spread of the caretaker role to group members other than the mother."

Like modern-day alloparenting, the additional bonding to and protection by people other than kin that baby schema elicits in humans is integral in the promotion of the species. Simply put, it really does take a village.

Though cuteness can motivate us to care for anything that looks like a baby, it can also overstimulate us, throwing our brain into overload—and we. want. to. bite.

But how does all of this explain why we want to eat our baby?

In 2015, two studies were conducted by graduate psychology students at the Clark Relationship Lab at Yale University. Researchers Oriana Aragon and Rebecca Dyer determined that too much cute stimuli (in this case, baby schema) triggers an aggressive reaction—or opposite expression.

Cute aggression, or "dimorphous expression," is when an abundance of positive emotions elicits expressions normally associated with negative emotions.

In their first study, participants were shown pictures of babies that were so cute they overwhelmed them with positive feelings and caused them to reveal expressions of high aggression, saying they wanted to pinch the babies' cheeks and "eat them up." As expected, participants had more positive feelings when viewing photographs of cuter babies than when viewing photographs of the less-cute babies.

"When you see something that's unbearably cute, you have this high positive reaction," said lead researcher, Oriana Aragon. "These feelings get overwhelming, and for some reason (with) cuteness, the 'dimorphous expression' happens to be the gritting of teeth, clenching of fists and (the stating of) aggressive statements like 'I wanna eat you.'" Basically, when we feel happiness that is so intense, it manifests as a violent impulse.

So why do we do this?

It's a means of releasing stress.

Too many positive emotions can be as stressful and overwhelming as too many negative emotions—and it is just as bad for our bodies. "Being very high or really low still releases stress hormones, and it'll still be hard on the body," explains Aragon. "To regulate those emotions and regain balance and emotional equilibrium, we need to release stress in an opposite way, ie. aggressively."

Aragon explains, "We regulate emotions in a lot of different ways. Sometimes we try to rethink the situation. Sometimes we try to push our emotions down with sheer will. Sometimes we remove ourselves from the situation that is causing the emotions. And with this new discovery, we are figuring out that sometimes we respond with the opposite expression from what we feel, and that seems to help to balance us back out too."

So in a second study, Aragon and Dyer set out to determine if cute aggression in reactions to infantile stimuli indeed functioned to regulate emotion, and in the process, decrease stress levels.

In this second study, those who had the highest "aggressive" responses to the photos, ie. the most overstimulation, also tended to have a lower level of positive emotion five minutes after viewing the images, leading the researchers to believe that "cute aggression" was helping them regulate and balance out their overall emotions. "(P)eople who (express aggression) seem to recover better from those strong emotions," explained Aragon.

This is a good thing: It is the brain's way of bringing us back into a normal, more manageable range of emotions. Because, if we are out of control, we cannot care for our baby. In terms of evolution, a stressed mama, whether she is upset or overjoyed, might not be the most attentive mama, so nature has built in a way to even the keel and keep us alert, stable and able to act.

The researchers' work is reinforced by other studies that have also concluded that by balancing one emotion with the expression of another, the expression of that emotion functions to regulate the other emotion.

Nature's way of balancing emotions has wide reaching benefits

What scientists are learning from this phenomenon is being explored as a means for possibly alleviating mental illness. "You see (bipolar) people go manic for days—they're really high, they're really up. That has deleterious effects on the body. Potentially, this (research) could lead to better therapies...for people who are having a difficult time managing their emotions," says Aragon.

Recognizing the benefits of the emotional release and balance gained from this phenomenon, Aragon and Dyer believe further studies can help people understand relationships and emotional states better.

So, mama, it is perfectly normal and healthy to want to eat our babies.

Cuteness motivates us to want to care for babies, but we can be overwhelmed by it, making us want to eat them. That aggressive response reduces the stress we get from all that incapacitating joy, and it all works together to balance out our overwhelming emotions so that we can continue to care for them and keep them safe. Got that?

And as far as our friends wanting to eat our baby, primatologist Susan Perry at the University of California, Los Angeles, and her colleagues say that harmless "social biting" may also be part of our evolutionary heritage as a way of testing our social bonds and displaying signs of our good intentions.

So go ahead and nibble on those dimples—it's making you a more emotionally balanced person, which makes you an even better parent.

[This post was originally published May 07, 2018]

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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

After a pregnancy that is best described as uncomfortable, Jessica Simpson is finally done "Jess-tating" and is now a mama of three.

Baby Birdie Mae Johnson joined siblings Ace and Maxwell on Tuesday, March 19, Simpson announced via Instagram.

Simpson's third child weighed in at 10 pounds, 13 ounces.

Birdie's name is no surprise to Jessica's Instagram followers, who saw numerous references to the name in her baby shower photos and IG stories in the last few weeks.

The name Birdie isn't in the top 1000 baby names according to the Social Security Administration, but It has been seeing a resurgence in recent years, according to experts.

"Birdie feels like a sassy but sweet, down-to-earth yet unusual name," Pamela Redmond Satran of Nameberry told Town and Country back in 2017. "It's also just old enough to be right on time."

At this moment in time, Simpson and her husband, former NFL player Eric Johnson, are probably busy counting little fingers and toes , which is great news because it means Simpson's toes can finally deflate. She's had a terrible time with swollen feet during this pregnancy, and was also hospitalized multiple times due to bronchitis in her final trimester.

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We're so glad to see Simpson's little Birdie has finally arrived!

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Spring is officially here and if you're looking for a way to celebrate the change in the season, why not treat the kids to some ice cream, mama?

DQ locations across the country (but not the ones in malls) are giving away free small vanilla cones today, March 20! So pack up the kids and get to a DQ near you.

And if you can't make it today, from March 21 through March 31, DQ's got a deal where small cones will be just 50 cents (but you have to download the DQ mobile app to claim that one).

Another chain, Pennsylvania-based Rita's Italian Ice is also dishing up freebies today, so if DQ's not your thing you can grab a free cup of Italian ice instead.

We're so excited that ice cream season is here and snowsuit season is behind us. Just a few short weeks and the kids will be jumping through the sprinklers.

Welcome back, spring. We've missed you!

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No parent wants to imagine their child dying. To think that your little bundle of joy would pass away before they could live a full life is unfathomable. But when a parent does lose a child, it can feel like a shock to the system, and recovering is a life-long process we need to talk about.

In 2018 Catastrophe actor Rob Delaney revealed that his 2-year-old son Henry died after a long battle with brain cancer. This week, speaking at a fundraiser for families with seriously ill children, Delaney spoke candidly about how hard the last 14 months have been, the Evening Standard reports.

"I'm a mess. My child died 14 months ago and I'm basically a bag of wet rubbish. I need a lot of help. It has been very hard. It comes in waves. I've learned to not control how the waves come. Right now I'm sad a lot," he said, explaining that he shares this openly in the hopes that "if a bereaved parent or bereaved sibling reads this, I want them to know that it's okay that they feel terrible, sad, confused and so brutally humbled."

In a previous Facebook post about Henry's death, the 42-year-old comedian shared that Henry had been diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly after his first birthday, and had undergone surgery to remove the tumor, as well as additional treatment. But the cancer returned and he passed away shortly after.

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As a way to cope with his loss, Delaney wrote that he focuses his energy on his family—his two other sons and his wife, Leah. He said in his post, “I am astonished by the love-in-action displayed by Henry's mom and his brothers. They are why I will endeavor to not go mad with grief. I don't want to miss out on their beautiful lives. I'm greedy for more experiences with them."

Delaney's message about grieving is so important, especially for other bereaved parents. In that one statement, Delaney highlights one big, undeniable truth: How a parent decides to mourn the loss of their child is a deeply personal choice.

“Mourning is the outward or public expression of grief, a means of sharing grief with people who also are grieving or who want to support you," writes oncologist Dr. Edward Creagan for the Mayo Clinic. “Religious rituals, cultural traditions and personal beliefs often shape how we mourn.

Whatever form it takes, mourning is a critical process that can help you lessen the intensity of grief and help you adapt to your loss."

For Sandy Peckinpah, a certified grief recovery specialist, mourning the loss of her 16-year-old son meant turning to a journal. In an essay for HuffPost, Peckinpah writes that after her son's death from misdiagnosed bacterial meningitis, she felt as though her pain was “visible to others, and I would forever be wearing grief as a mask and a tagline... 'I'm Sandy Peckinpah and I've lost a child.'"

"Then a friend gave me a journal and said, 'Write. Just write,'" Peckinpah continues. On the first page, she could only write one sentence: “My son died and my life will never be the same."

“The next day, I wrote a paragraph, and each day after that I found words came more easily. My journal became my safe haven to empty the well of my sorrow, pouring tears of ink onto paper. And for a little while, I could let my emotions rest," shares Peckinpah.

Whether it's pouring yourself into your family or into a journal, there's one thing for sure: Grief is not a one-way street. Grief is a twisting, never-ending highway with exits and on-ramps and merging lanes and service roads.

Over time, your feelings of grief will subside or, at least, “feel less constant as if it's moved into the background of your emotions," Creagan writes. “But long after a death," he continues, “you may also find yourself caught off guard by a moment of profound grief, for example, on the anniversary of the death, during holidays or on your loved one's birthday."

In other words: You never know when the pain of your loss will hit you—or when you're even ready to move on.

And that's okay, bereaved parents. It's okay if you don't go “mad with grief"—and it's okay if you do. It's okay if you break down in your kitchen—and if you laugh at your friend's bad dad joke. Grief is not uniform.

But just remember: You don't have to walk this journey alone.

[A version of this post was first published February 12, 2018. It has been updated.]

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