A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

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.

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.


You might also like:

Comments20x20 ExportCreated with Sketch.
Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

Between the sleepless nights, endless worries, and persistent temper tantrums, parenting can feel like a fast track to gray hairs and wrinkles.

Now, researchers at Northwestern University have proven what we've suspected all along: having children does, in fact, speed up the aging process. A new study, which was published last month in Scientific Reports, found that each pregnancy can age a mother's cells by up to two years.

Each baby ages a mother’s cells

Researchers studied 821 women in the Philippines between the ages of 20 and 22, with various reproductive histories. They examined two separate markers of cellular aging—telomere length and epigenetic age—to measure the toll pregnancy takes on the body.

"Telomere length and epigenetic age are cellular markers that independently predict mortality, and both appeared 'older' in women who had more pregnancies in their reproductive histories," Calen Ryan, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in biological anthropology at Northwestern, said in a statement. "Even after accounting for other factors that affect cellular aging, the number of pregnancies still came out on top."

The researchers were surprised to find that cellular aging increased between about six months and two years for each additional pregnancy—a figure much higher than what they originally anticipated. Meanwhile, women who were currently pregnant had cells that looked significantly younger than predicted for their biological age."

It's an interesting situation in which pregnancy makes someone look temporarily 'young,' but there appears to be some lasting, cumulative relationship between the number of pregnancies and more accelerated biological age," noted Christopher Kuzawa, PhD, senior author of the study and a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University.

Our telomeres shorten and our epigenetic age increases

Telomeres, which are stretches of DNA at the end of chromosomes, protect our DNA and make it possible for our cells to divide. Longer telomeres are associated with longer lives and better health. As people age and as cells divide and replicate, those telomeres shorten.

Given that there is hyper cell production during pregnancy, it makes sense that those telomeres would shorten and, therefore, appear to age dramatically.

"During pregnancy, more cells need to be produced for carrying and nurturing the fetus, such as in red blood cells, placental cells, and more," said Dr. Kim Langdon, an Ohio-based retired OB-GYN who writes at Parenting Pod. "In addition, the cells in all organs such as the heart and uterus enlarge. This is known as hypertrophy—and when cells hypotrophy, their telomeres shorten."

Meanwhile, the epigenetic age begins to climb. This is an estimate of a person's biological age based on changes in the DNA that are caused by environmental factors, such as toxins and stress.

In other words, pregnancy puts a lot of pressure on the body. "I'm not really surprised," Langdon told Healthline about the findings. "Every OB-GYN knows the extreme stress to the system that pregnancy causes."

Throughout pregnancy, the blood volume increases by 50% as does the cardiac output, which puts strain on the heart. The kidney function increases and the lungs have reduced capacity, which causes breathlessness.

Why, then, did the pregnant women seem so much better off?

It may all come down to the immunological, hormonal, and physiological changes that take place during pregnancy to support development of the baby.

For example, pregnant women experience elevated estrogen levels, which can lower oxidative stress and prevent damage to telomere length and epigenetic age. Once the baby is born, though, those shifts are no longer necessary.

The findings may not be permanent

The study supports previous evidence that women who have had more pregnancies are more susceptible to certain illnesses and have slightly shorter life spans. Earlier this year, researchers from George Mason University found that childbirth could age a woman by as many as 11 years.

While it may be nerve-racking to learn that having children can accelerate the aging process, scientists still don't fully understand why this happens and don't want women to worry.

According to Langdon, we are far away from understanding if these findings could impact family planning or the longevity or long-term health of the mother.

"We don't know if these findings are permanent," Langdon said. "More longitudinal studies need to be done over many years, even decades, to see if this is reversible or if it really can predict when you will die."

The researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Washington have already started they working on a follow-up study that will examine the same group of women 13 years after their cellular measurements were first taken. Eventually, we'll be able to see if the women's cells continue to appear older throughout their life.

Until then, though, you can keep blaming your kids for those fine lines and dark circles.

Originally posted on Healthline.

You might also like:

In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

You might also like:

I always thought I'd have babies. As in, multiple babies. Maybe three or four? I knew it would be hard. I knew pregnancy was tough and childbirth was no walk in the park.

I just didn't know how tough. And I also had no idea how hard my recovery would be.

It's been nearly four months, and I'm still taking pain medicine. I'm still using the witch hazel pads and haven't touched toilet paper. I'm still struggling with issues from my labor and delivery that just won't go away.

I'm still dealing with the emotional guilt that comes from feeling like I failed my daughter because I don't remember her first moments of life due to the trauma of what my body went through.

My birth story was traumatic and terrifying—and rare.

At 38 weeks pregnant, I had been in what we thought was labor for almost two days—but was actually a kidney stone. I was in constant, terrible pain for nearly 48 hours straight, and morphine didn't take the pain away—it only took the edge off. I watched out the hospital window as the world went by outside, and the hours dragged on.

I didn't sleep because of the pain. My body was completely drained and had gone into survival mode because of what felt like endless torture. Eventually, I was induced because of a small leak of amniotic fluid and had to give birth in an exhausted physical state and a completely anxious mental state.

I was in no way ready to have my baby—the baby I had been so ready for just weeks earlier.

This lead to all the things I had hoped to avoid for my birth—inducement, more inducement because I wasn't progressing fast enough, having to lie flat on my back, epidural, episiotomy and forceps.

By the time my sweet daughter finally entered the world, and they placed her in my arms—all I could do was immediately fall back onto the bed and close my eyes. My body was shutting down from sheer exhaustion. I wasn't even able to look at my brand new baby, let alone admire her or watch her take her first breaths. This part of my birth story still breaks my heart.

After they moved me to my recovery room, I asked my husband what our delivery room number was—because I never wanted to go in that room again. I didn't want to see it. I didn't want to walk down the hallway past it. And I really didn't want to think about what happened in there. My mind was scarred by the fear and anxiety I experienced.

The hardest part of all of this is that now, the thought of getting pregnant again terrifies me. My heart longs to have a house full of little feet running down the halls, yet my body says "closed for business." It's a confusing tension.

I know of women who have suffered through experiences much worse than I have. I know there are stories out there that are almost unbelievable. I don't know if or when or how I will ever feel ready for another baby again.

Yet, I have been realizing a few things.

It's okay that I'm scared. It's okay that I didn't feel as strong as I hoped to be. It's okay that I didn't power through childbirth without assistance. It's okay that I wasn't like the moms who can give birth in their sleep.

And it's okay that I wasn't physically able to witness my daughter's first moments of life. It doesn't make me a bad mother. It won't ruin my daughter's life. She doesn't even know what happened—only I do. I'm the one whose heart is broken because of this—not hers. She was in mama's arms and that's all she knew.

So I'm giving myself grace. I'm letting my mind and body heal for however long it takes. I'm not going to feel the guilt of failure—because I didn't fail.

So, mama with the traumatic birth story, please give yourself grace too. You're a good mom. You're a strong and powerful woman who has done something amazing.

You brought life into this world.

Your body didn't fail—you survived, and you're a mother now. And it's absolutely, 100% okay if you change your mind about having another baby. You have permission to feel exactly how you feel, right now at this moment.

Don't feel like less of a woman because of a story that was ultimately out of your control. You did it. You really did it. That is what makes you a strong, powerful woman. You are amazing, and you are a rockstar for going through what you did.

And you know what? You're killing this whole motherhood thing, too—just so you know.

You might also like:

First responders do a lot of heroic things on the job. We're used to seeing police officers on TV pulling victims to safety or chasing down the bad guys, but sometimes heroism looks a lot different. Sometimes, it looks like breastfeeding.

A Facebook photo of a police officer breastfeeding a hungry baby in an Argentinian hospital has now gone viral for a very good reason. It's a simple act, but to that hungry baby, Officer Celeste Ayala is certainly a hero.

The photo was posted to Facebook by Marcos Heredia, who says he witnessed the police officer comfort and breastfeed a hungry baby while on duty at the Sister Maria Ludovica Children's Hospital in Buenos Aires.

According to Heredia, who tagged the officer in the Facebook post, Officer Ayala was attending the busy hospital on August 14 when she noticed the baby, a patient, needing care and comfort, and took it upon herself to give it.

"I want to make public this great gesture of love that you had today with that little baby, who without knowing you didn't hesitate, and for a moment you fulfilled [as if] you were their mother," reads a loose translation of Heredia's post.

Multiple Spanish-language websites report the 6-month-old baby Ayala breastfed is the youngest of six siblings who were in the process of being placed into foster care because their mother did not have the resources to feed them. The children were at the hospital for the medical exams they needed before being moved into foster care when Ayala came into contact with the baby, who was desperately hungry while waiting, according to reports.

Metro reports Ayala spoke to local media in Buenos Aires, explaining that she noticed hospital staff were overwhelmed so she, a mother of two, asked if she could comfort and feed the baby. "I noticed that he was hungry, as he was putting his hand into his mouth, so I asked to hug him and breastfeed him. It was a sad moment, it broke my soul seeing him like this, society should be sensitive to the issues affecting children, it cannot keep happening," Ayala reportedly said.

Not only is Ayala a mother and a police officer, but she is also apparently a volunteer firefighter as well. Her fellow firefighters joined in the chorus of people supporting Ayala's simple heroism on social media.

'We want to congratulate the voluntary firefighting cadet Celeste Ayala who yesterday in her job as police officer whilst she was on guard duty at the hospital, breastfed a young child who arrived crying."

Sometimes, first responders pull people from a burning building or save people from a hostage taking. And sometimes they feed babies.


You might also like:

Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.