My wife has said many times that our son is so cute and adorable that she wants to gobble him up.

Why do mothers sometimes feel an urge to bite (or tightly hug) their children?

  • 3
    This question sounds like it'd belong on the English Language & Usage SE rather than here >_>
    – Doc
    Feb 27, 2014 at 22:31
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    I don't think it's a peculiarity of English language. The desire to bite or hug something cute is a known phenomenon in humans, not just English-speaking ones.
    – Steve HHH
    Feb 27, 2014 at 23:42
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    Because she's hungry after giving birth? You should make her a sandwich. In fact, always carry a sandwich, to throw at her if she starts gnawing on your kid.
    – SQB
    Feb 28, 2014 at 10:06
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    I don't think it's just a phrase. My wife actually has an urge to bite or eat our son, though of course she never acts on it. The phrase must have come about in many languages because of a common human instinct. I am curious about that instinct, which seems more common in mothers than in fathers.
    – Steve HHH
    Feb 28, 2014 at 19:48
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    @SteveHHH it sounds like what you're really after here is the etymology of the phrase. This site's focus is practical advice on parenting activities. Even though the phrase exists in many languages, I suggest that you pose this question over at English language & usage. Feb 28, 2014 at 20:31

4 Answers 4


There is actually a reasonably well researched explanation, and it has nothing to do with etymology.

When we are overwhelmed with a strong positive experience, our brain attempts to regulate this by simultaneously producing an aggressive response to the same experience; these opposing reactions are known as dimorphous expressions.

When your wife says she wants to eat the baby, she literally can't handle how cute your baby is, and her brain is attempting to regulate her emotions with an aggressive response!

According to Yale University psychological scientist and lead researcher Oriana Aragon, this is a mechanism that helps us to regulate emotion and is completely normal and healthy. “These insights advance our understanding of how people express and control their emotions, which is importantly related to mental and physical health, the quality of relationships with others, and even how well people work together,” she said.

Re: Study published in Psychological Science; co-authors include Margaret S. Clark, Rebecca L. Dyer and John A. Bargh of Yale.

@Ida Thank you for your suggestion; you're absolutely right, a link to the study is necessary: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/01/27/0956797614561044

  • 1
    This is an awesome answer, do you mind including a link to the study if possible? I think that would improve the answer.
    – Ida
    Feb 12, 2016 at 17:29
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    Nice answer, although as an aside: you don't need to tag the OP in your answer - it will automatically notify them.
    – Jon Story
    Feb 15, 2016 at 13:20

It's just a phrase used to stress how much she loves her! She's not going to do her any harm:)

I sometimes have a tiny urge to bite my LO's ear when she's on my arms being cute and sweet. I never do it though. So perhaps there is something literal to this phrase, as we tend to kiss and hug and cuddle with our kids.

The topic's been mentioned here and there on the Internet, see this forum discussion or this study report.


I've said the same thing about my son and I'm his father. Will I actually cannibalize him? No. But I will rub against him or kiss him or hug him. He's a baby, he is cute, of course I want to get as close to him as possible.

Perhaps it's an evolutionary response to a small child so that the parents will look after him/her and will not be abandoned. Perhaps this response evolved so that parents that did feel this way saw their genetic legacy continue more successfully than those that did not do this.


Don't you feel an urge to sometime "tightly hug" people you truly love?

About the "eating" phrase. My mother said that to me and my sister a lot, even after passing the baby years, so there's no need to worry about cannibalism ;)

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