Do I want to pick them up, or punch them?
March 24, 2012 8:20 PM   Subscribe

Why do my arms hurt when I see a cute [human] baby? Is this something other people experience or just some idiosyncrasy of my own weird body?

I am a woman in my late twenties, with no particular inclination towards kids: don't have any desire to have them; find them entertaining in small doses when they're well-behaved and belong to someone else. My friends and partner make fun of me and say that I imprinted incorrectly, because I love other baby animals but am relatively indifferent to all but the cutest human babies (and I still think even the cutest human baby pales in comparison to the average kitten).

However, for the past few years I've noticed that when I see an especially cute baby/toddler, a sharp pain radiates down my forearms from my inner elbows to my wrists. It's the same exact pain every time, and it happens even when I'm not actively thinking "oh my goodness, how cute!" -- for example, the other day while I was lying in bed, I could hear my downstairs neighbor outside playing with his toddler, and even though I wasn't paying attention to them at all I kept experiencing this pain. And, to my knowledge, I don't experience this pain when I see cute babies of other species (and I should know, since I've watched approximately three million Youtube videos of baby sloths).

So is this an actual phenomenon that other people have experienced? Is there any physiological explanation for it or is my body just being weird? Is this some sort of omen that in a few years I'm magically going to go from actively not wanting kids to dreaming about what color to paint my nursery? (I can't quite envision that, but I guess stranger things have happened.)
posted by enlarged to show texture to Human Relations (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I am a lady interested in reproduction but have never experienced or heard of this phenomenon.
posted by Miko at 9:05 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

This often shows up in stories or anecdotes (google "her arms ached to hold them" or something like that), but I don't know if this indicates a real condition, or is merely a sentimental literary idiom.
posted by Malla at 9:43 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anecdotal evidence and I've never had children but had my breasts hurt when I've seen a new born baby the pain sometimes seems to radiate from/to my armpit area. It might be related to that.
posted by wwax at 9:51 PM on March 24, 2012

I don't think I've ever experienced that, but I have occasionally had something similar happen when Dr. Tully Monster is away on an extended trip: sometimes when I'm missing him my hands ache, as though I'm missing his touch. This is a wild guess, but I wonder if oxytocin is involved somehow--it's a feel-good chemical activated by touch and strengthens the bond between parents and babies, as well as longtime couples. (I think. I am not a biochemist. Feel free to correct me.)
posted by tully_monster at 10:02 PM on March 24, 2012

I have this exact same feeling, but never in a baby-related context. It happens to me when I see someone else in acute (and usually gory) pain. Example: someone accidentally hits their head really hard on something, or someone's got a big, open, bleeding cut. My elbows throb and radiate pain down my arms. Weird.
posted by Betty's Table at 10:19 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

My guess would be some sort of anxiety response. It could be possible that you're having anxiety around babies just because of the social expectation that young women should be baby-focused, even if you're not interested in having children yourself.
posted by sweetkid at 10:52 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Might have something to do with mirror neurons (the pain Betty's Table feels definitely does).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:14 PM on March 24, 2012

yea, weird, I get pain in my eyes when I am feeling for another - judging from all the respones here, it seems like a lot of people have these feelings, but it's different for everyone.

is it an omen? not in my experience, being 42 and very happily kidless, but damn the eyestabbypain is annoying sometimes.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:48 PM on March 24, 2012

Hm. My fingers hurt when i'm sad (but only at night time). Have no idea why.
posted by revikim at 2:55 AM on March 25, 2012

When I had a miscarriage, the doctors told me to expect that my arms would ache like this for several months afterwards, and that if they did, I wasn't crazy - its some kind of hormonal response that lots, but not all, women experience. Maybe something similar?
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:12 AM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Maybe there was an instance when you saw a cute baby and you had an unrelated but coincidental radial/ulnar nerve hiccup, and your brain conflated the two discrete things. So now every time you see a cute baby your brain zaps your forearms .. and every time it happens it reinforces the association, and now it's not just coincidence, but a conscious association.
posted by headnsouth at 6:17 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow, this is fascinating; I am drawn to babies but have never had anything approaching this physical response. I would also guess that it's hormonal and maybe even related to a mammary gland response; maybe you're just extra sensitive. Women who are lactating definitely have a mammary response to a baby's cry/the presence of a baby.

But I would definitely follow up on dpx's response, seems like there might be an explanation there.
posted by emjaybee at 6:57 AM on March 25, 2012

Could it be related to the Letdown Reflex?
Some moms with sensitive reflexes can let down their milk either right before or right at the beginning of a breastfeeding session. Many women experience an uncontrolled let-down reflex when they hear a baby cry or think of their child—suddenly, milk will begin to flow even if their baby is not nursing.
posted by alms at 12:17 PM on March 25, 2012

you might be interested in this story
posted by FlyByDay at 5:44 PM on March 25, 2012

I get a very specific, radiating, uncomfortable, and weak sensation down my legs when I see somebody in acute pain, similar to what Betty's Table described. The event can be in person or in video. Watching those "Jackass" type videos is something I just don't do. I have no idea what causes the sensation.
posted by icanbreathe at 12:11 AM on March 27, 2012

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