What happens to moms' brains when their babies cry?
New mothers are hardwired to soothe their babies, and their brain scans prove it.
For such tiny, helpless creatures, babies seem to wield a lot of power. When they cry, what do we do? We pick them up, hold them, talk to them, sing to them, feed them, change their diaper, take them for a walk, change their clothes ... sometimes we do two or three or four of those things at once. Whatever works, we do it.
A new study using a form of MRI to examine hundreds of mothers in 11 countries – Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, South Korea and the United States – found that regardless of location, culture or socioeconomic status, when a new mom hears her baby cry, she's pretty much hard-wired to soothe, and her brain has a very instinctive way of achieving that.
This is your brain on motherhood. (Photo: sfam_photo/Shutterstock)
Specifically, three regions of the brain – the supplementary motor area, which triggers movement and speech; the inferior frontal regions, which is where speech is produced; and the superior temporal regions, where sound is processed – were activated in the 684 mothers who participated in the study. When their babies cried, those three regions produced a similar response in the mothers – pick him up, hold him, talk to him.
Not surprisingly, there's room for further research. There are plenty of variables that can explain why some parents exhibit different degrees of nurturing or affection, and what happens in their brains when they do. But the gist of this recent study is baby cries, mom saves the day.
Lest you thought there was some grand solution out there you haven't tried yet to calm down a crying baby, rest (or don't rest, probably) assured that you are not alone. Moms in China and Italy are handling this brave challenge of parenting pretty much the same way as moms in Israel and the U.S. You're doing just fine, Mom.
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