Motherhood

Why Parents Want to Eat Their Babies

Why Parents Want to Eat Their Babies

A few weekends ago, we ran into some friends who had just had a baby. I got to hold their chubby little one in my arms, and as I cradled her, I couldn’t help saying…

“I could sink my teeth into that thigh.”

It was a semi-weird thing to say, on the face of it, but do you ever feel the same way? I regularly tell my own boys, “I want to eat your cheeks off,” and “You’re so munchy,” and Alex often announces, “I’m going to squeeze you ’til you pop.” My friend told her daughter that she was going to eat her for breakfast with a spoon, and Caroline nicknamed her dog “Squeezle,” inspired by the daily urge to “squeeze her tiny, fluffy face.”

“Baby-talk can sound downright serial-killer-ish if you take it out of context,” wrote Pagan Kennedy in the New York Times. But social psychologist Oriana Aragón actually did a study about these feelings and coined it “cute aggression.” People sometimes clench their fists or grit their teeth when they see something adorable. Aragón and her team at Yale asked people to hold sheets of bubble wrap while watching a series of photos. And the people popped more bubbles while looking at cuter things (say, a kitten vs. a cat), proving that they really did feel an urge to squeeeeeze.

Researchers aren’t sure yet why it happens, but one guess is that it’s because, throughout the centuries, parents have had to hold their babies pretty continually for those first couple years, and this urge may help us keep them close.

Thoughts? What cute-aggressive things do you say?

Why Parents Want to Eat Their Babies

10/10 would eat those cheeks again.

P.S. One thing that has surprised me about parenting, and why kids cover their eyes while hiding.

(Top photo by Serena Mitnik-Miller. Bottom photo of Toby.)

  1. Ashley says...

    I often play bite my babes ribs and thighs… we say, “Leg rolls for dinner!” Or “time for some baby short ribs!” I often tell my husband, “I just want to bite his little legs. Can I do that?”
    I have heard this feeling described as a counter feeling. Becoming aggressive when something is so dang cute and lovable is our bodies way of regulating the overwhelming feeling of cuteness.

  2. Natalie says...

    My 2 yo son recently started sweetly grabbing my face and saying “I eat you up!” before gently biting my cheek and laughing with glee. It is truly the best.

  3. shawn says...

    Parents are weird. <3

  4. Tara Sharp says...

    I’d often sweetly tell my toddlers “I want to eat you up!” My younger daughter was about 3 years old when she very sweetly offered for me to eat her elbow. It was at that very moment that I realized that I had been — over and over — saying something horrible to my kids! I explained that I didn’t really want to eat her, that it was just a term of endearment, and never ever said it again!!!!!!!

  5. Chrissy Shea says...

    We fake eating our 4 month old’s chunky arms like corn on the cob

  6. Jessica G. says...

    “I just wanna EAT THOSE CHEEKS!” every single day. Also the clenching of the teeth—holy moly that had returned with a vengeance since I had my son! He’s just so darn cute I find myself clenching my teeth ALL. THE. TIME. 😂

  7. Andie says...

    We have a word for this in Tagalog–it’s called “gigil,” that feeling when something is so cute you want to shake them or pinch them or squeeze until they pop, as Alex would say. I still haven’t found a good translation for this feeling in English, but I guess “cute aggression” is as close as it’s going to get!

    • Dawn says...

      +100,000 on gigil! Now we have the English word for it!

  8. I think I want to eat chubby babies because I want to keep their cuteness with me, it’s too sad to think it will go away. Saying “I want to eat you” is like saying “I don’t want to let this lovely chubbiness go away”. When I was very young I remember gently biting my mom’s arm because I loved her so much and she was soft and smelled good.

  9. Cait says...

    My kids loved the Wow in the World episode on this, and that’s where I heard about it too! It’s so fascinating. I definitely have the need to kiss and feel and smell my babies’ cheeks, and clench my teeth when something is super cute as well. My single friend told me, “I always clench my teeth when I hold babies, I don’t know why!” It’s funny to think about why we have these crazy urges!

  10. Caitlin says...

    Inspired by “Where the Wild Things Are,” I say, “I’ll eat you up I love you so!” And I often ask, “Why are you so delicious?!” She’s just sooooo cute!!

  11. I feel like I read an article that was about this a few years ago. It has something to do with evolution, and how in caveman times babies, who were essentially the ultimate prey, would use their cuteness as a protection against actually being eaten or discarded by their parents, almost like a camouflage or defense mechanism. Which is kind of hilarious to imagine – Parents, the wily coyote, constantly chasing after our cunning roadrunner offspring. Babies, the ultimate escape artist.

  12. Maggie says...

    I chipped a tooth! I had never noticed before, but when I’m feeling overwhelming love for my little guy, I guess I clench my teeth – hard! And I totally chipped my top front tooth. Dentist had to repair it but pointed out that it’s not as strong as enamel, so now I’m hyper-conscious that my love for him makes me grit my teeth ALL. THE. TIME!

    Slightly afraid that if I have more kids, I’ll end up toothless.

    (I want to go nibble him in his crib right now thinking about it!)

  13. Megan Ruth Rowlinson says...

    Thanks for sharing and giving some insight! I always find it so strange that this is a thing because when you think about it, it is so weird that would be something you’d want to do when you find something cute! Haha. Wilmington, DE

  14. Recently I did my usual spiel of “OMG I WANNA EAT YOU” etc, etc and my two year-old turned to me with a horrified face and said, “MAMA NO! NOT ME! EAT FRENCH FRIES!” Sorry kid. Fries just aren’t as tasty.

  15. Heather says...

    Funny! I always tell my boys “I love you so much I eat you up!” like in Where the Wild Things Are. And, then I hear it and think, “Wow, I’m kind-of a creepy mama!”

  16. Jolanda says...

    Loved this!
    I feel the same about my chubby bubba’s. But I actually do ‘eat’ them. I bite them with my lips in stead of my teeth, and they think it is the greatest thing. Blow kisses also are very effective when I feel the ‘eat them!’ craving and they also love that.

  17. Ser says...

    My parents haven’t been together for over 30 years and I’m now not close to my mum. My dad died last year and was an absent father and kind of a disappointment ( we discovered on cleaning out his house after he died he’d been running brothels) but one think that comforts me and makes me feel like I did once have parents , is my mum telling me when I was a baby, they used to race each other to get to kiss my morning cheeks first .

    • Laura says...

      This is so touching. I’m sorry that all of their parenting wasn’t as lovely as those mornings in the early days. <3

  18. Thank you for explaining this! Finally someone explains it! I always feel so creepy when I message my sisters “I WANT TO EAT HIM” when they share pics and videos of my nephews and nieces. It sounds so creepy!!

  19. BC says...

    Once told a friend I wanted to eat her baby’s thighs and went so far as to say… “Lets just pop them in the oven, they’ll be delicious!” Writing it down makes it sound certifiable. Somehow we are still friends.

    Then, more recently to my own 3 yr old son I said “Gimme those leggies, I’m gonna eat them for dinner!” And he had the cutest reply: “NO mama, I’m not delicious!”

    • Caitlin says...

      My daughter says something similar: “Do you want to see me again? Then don’t eat me up!”