Want to eat your baby, or nibble those little toes? There's a scientific reason for it

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 Photo: Getty Images

If you're anything like me, you probably talk about how delicious your baby is.

Or maybe you pick up your baby's teensy weensy little feet and pretend to nibble them, or grab her plump cheeks and smother them in kisses while saying you could just gobble her up.

Whatever form it takes, it's pretty common to hear parents talking about wanting to eat their little ones.

While we all know we don't say these things because we literally want to eat our children (duh), research shows there's a reason why we feel that way.

The Daily Mail yesterday reported  that the smell of babies triggers a physiological response in mums which is similar to how hungry people feel when presented with an enticing meal.

This is not the first time it's been reported that a baby's smell can induce strong feelings in us.

In 2013, research in Frontiers in Psychology showed that women find the new baby smell 'addictive'.

That study showed that when women smelt a two day-old baby, the reward centres in their brains lit up in the same way they would if they had indulged in other addictive substances - like drugs or alcohol.

The reason we're so enamoured with our babies' smell is because we're wired to want to nurture them, says clinical psychologist Kirstin Bouse.

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Being drawn to our babies' scent means we're more likely to want to spend time with them and protect them.

"I imagine good old Mother Nature added another dimension to our physiology [being drawn to our baby's scent, to the point of wanting to 'eat' them] so that we were even more inclined towards being close to our baby."

(And yes, Bouse says she's read that, "it's normal to want to eat your baby and nibble their toes".)

Bouse says another reason we may be programmed to want to 'eat' our offspring is that the desire to eat is a primal urge, one that is necessary for survival.

So just like we have an innate need to eat, she says we have "equally powerful feelings" towards our babies. These strong feelings are there to make sure we do all we can to help them survive.

Psychologist Janine Clarke agrees these feelings are evolutionary.

"My sense is that this is an adaptive response that ensures we take care of and nurture our offspring," she says.

While it may seem odd that our desire to protect our babies translates to feeling like we could 'eat' them, this urge simply relates to the intensity of love we feel towards our little ones.

Commenters on the Daily Mail article were quick to say they also want to 'eat' their babies.

One mother wrote that today was her first day back at work after maternity leave.

"First thing I do when I get [home from work]? 'Nom, Nom, Nom' whilst nuzzling my 9 month old followed by a 'ooh I could just eat you up'."

(She added: "I did always think it was strange when people would say that - until I became a mum myself.")

It seems like this phase may not last forever, though, as one commenter wrote: "I was miraculously cured of this by my beautiful edible baby turning into a stroppy stinky teenager!"

So while my baby is still small and adorable, I'll continue saying I'm going to nibble her toes and gobble her cheeks.

I mean, how could I not? She's just too delicious.