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This Is What Happens To A Mother’s Brain When Her Baby Cries

mom holding crying baby

Have you ever noticed how during the night, when both you and your partner are seemingly in a deep sleep and your little one is also asleep in another room starts to stir, mom is always the first to know? Heck, your little baby could be in a bedroom on the other end of the house and mom would still be the first to sense that they are waking up and about to let out one of their epic wails. We wish that dad would notice more often. We wish that dads intuition was just as strong as moms because even when it's their turn to wake up with the baby, mom is awake my default. Well, there is actually a scientific reason this happens.

Here's how it works: when a mother has a baby, something that many call "the motherhood hormone" is released. In more scientific terms, this is actually oxytocin (a hormone released in strong doses during labor and lactation). When we have this hormone pumping through our bodies, something shifts in the way we respond and recognize the different sounds that our baby makes.

The study takes a closer look at this concept and was recently published in Nature that looked at female mice. Whenever they had oxytocin added their brains, it changed the way they processed the sounds of their crying pups.

crying baby
Credit: iStock / gpointstudio

The senior study investigator, Robert Froemke believes that whenever oxytocin is released that it amplifies how the auditory cortex processes incoming cries from our own little ones.  And obviously, that outcome yields the same reaction in female mice. It all comes down to urgency. Whenever the hormone is released and mom knows her baby is in some sort of distress, she is urgent to resolve it.

But it goes even deeper than that, as oxytocin also impacts how we learn things about our babies different cries. Ever realize how mom is also able to know which cry means their baby is hungry, uncomfortable, or even when they need a diaper change? This is how she knows that.

Overall, moms brand just flat out responds different to their crying baby, and this takes us back to why dads don't pick up on this as much as moms do. The study also looked at the makeup of the male mice in this situation and according to the study author, extra oxytocin doesn't speed up the reaction to crying pups in male mice the way it does for females.

Froemke shares that, "There is a difference in terms of [ a father's] sensitivity to oxytocin. We think that may be because the male oxytocin system is already maxed out." And interestingly enough, he added that living with a female and child did give the mouse dads a natural oxytocin boost. 

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