How Mothers’ Brains React to a Crying Baby


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According to the new study, hearing the cry of an infant activates brain areas associated with movement and speech, and certain brain and behavioral patterns are universal across many cultures. In other words, the crying of babies triggered the moms’ brains to move and prepare to talk, even before the mothers had necessarily processed what was happening and what they needed to do. A new MRI study finds that mothers’ brains are hardwired to comfort crying babies. The mother and baby relationship may be more complex than previously thought. The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science journal observed the brains of 684 mothers in 11 countries and how they respond to their crying babies with the.

Each mom, when hearing her baby cry, had virtually the same brain activity which spurred her to move, speak and respond to the child. The researchers concluded that mothers are inherently “hard-wired” to hear and respond to an infant’s cry. Mothers’ brains have a different level of sensitivity to crying babies. In humans and in mice, dads often respond to a baby’s cries, but the brain chemistry is a little different: According to Froemke, extra oxytocin doesn’t speed up the reaction to crying pups in male mice the way it does for females.

In women’s brains, there was a decrease in activity in two areas known to be active during mind wandering — the dorsal medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate areas. By contrast, these regions in. In human mothers, such as the women in the new study, oxytocin and other brain chemicals could be at play in reinforcing the urgency of responding to a crying baby, Froemke said. First this suggests that VD mothers are more sensitive to own baby‐cry than CSD mothers in the early postpartum in sensory processing, empathy, arousal, motivation, reward and habit‐regulation circuits.

Second, independent of mode of delivery, parental worries and mood are related to specific brain activations in response to own baby‐cry. A study found that the so-called “cuddle hormone”, oxytocin, which surges following childbirth, changes the way auditory signals are processed in.

List of related literature:

It makes sense, then, that for many babies in the first 16 weeks, insufficient sensory stimulation is experienced as an absence, or a hunger, which makes them cry.

“The Discontented Little Baby Book” by Pamela Douglas
from The Discontented Little Baby Book
by Pamela Douglas
University of Queensland Press, 2014

The mother grows in her respon­siveness to her baby’s cries, distinguishing her baby’s cry from that of other new­borns by the third day after birth, and distinguishing pain, hunger, and boredom cries by the end of the second week.

“When the Body Is the Target: Self-Harm, Pain, and Traumatic Attachments” by Sharon Klayman Farber
from When the Body Is the Target: Self-Harm, Pain, and Traumatic Attachments
by Sharon Klayman Farber
Jason Aronson, Incorporated, 2002

They may think that responding each time the infant cries causes the baby to cry to get attention.

“Foundations of Maternal-Newborn and Women's Health Nursing E-Book” by Sharon Smith Murray, Emily Slone McKinney
from Foundations of Maternal-Newborn and Women’s Health Nursing E-Book
by Sharon Smith Murray, Emily Slone McKinney
Elsevier Health Sciences, 2017

Parents should stimulate all the senses—place bright, intriguing objects around the nursery, play music, and show babies things, because “every time a baby responds to a stimulus, the brain stores the experience.”

“The Myth of the First Three Years: A New Understanding of Early Brain Development and Lifelong Learning” by John T. Bruer
from The Myth of the First Three Years: A New Understanding of Early Brain Development and Lifelong Learning
by John T. Bruer
Free Press, 1999

Babies may stop crying if they are quickly picked up rather than left to cry, soothed and put to the shoulder but it takes detective work for parents to understand why the baby is crying.

“Physiology in Childbearing: With Anatomy and Related Biosciences” by Dorothy Stables, Jean Rankin
from Physiology in Childbearing: With Anatomy and Related Biosciences
by Dorothy Stables, Jean Rankin
Elsevier Health Sciences UK, 2010

Prior to 6 months of age, the neural processes are not mature enough to enable the baby to manipulate the carer; to think ‘if I cry I will get my mother to come to see to me’.

“Mayes' Midwifery E-Book: A Textbook for Midwives” by Sue Macdonald
from Mayes’ Midwifery E-Book: A Textbook for Midwives
by Sue Macdonald
Elsevier Health Sciences, 2011

When the mother leaves her left brain’s agenda behind and follows her right-brained instincts to simply calm and relax her infant, only then can her feelings coincide with the baby’s, and the two right brains begin to resonate as one.

“Supporting Sucking Skills in Breastfeeding Infants” by Catherine Watson Genna
from Supporting Sucking Skills in Breastfeeding Infants
by Catherine Watson Genna
Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2012

The sound, smell, and feel of the mother sometimes appear promptly in response to crying, but sometimes do not.

“Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics E-Book” by Robert M. Kliegman, Bonita F. Stanton, Joseph St. Geme, Nina F Schor, Richard E. Behrman
from Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics E-Book
by Robert M. Kliegman, Bonita F. Stanton, et. al.
Elsevier Health Sciences, 2011

Further analysis of Ainsworth’s data revealed that the mothers who responded quickly and warmly to their babies’ cries during the early months of life not only tended to have securely attached babies at the end of the first year but babies who cried less as well.

“Becoming Attached: First Relationships and how They Shape Our Capacity to Love” by Robert Karen
from Becoming Attached: First Relationships and how They Shape Our Capacity to Love
by Robert Karen
Oxford University Press, 1998

Because a newborn lacks extensively organized neurological connections and myelination, the brain is unable to effectively suppress a cry related to hunger or pain.

“The Reciprocating Self: Human Development in Theological Perspective” by Jack O. Balswick, Pamela Ebstyne King, Kevin S. Reimer
from The Reciprocating Self: Human Development in Theological Perspective
by Jack O. Balswick, Pamela Ebstyne King, Kevin S. Reimer
InterVarsity Press, 2016

Oktay Kutluk

Kutluk Oktay, MD, FACOG is one of the world's foremost experts in fertility preservation as well as ovarian stimulation and in vitro fertilization for infertility treatments. He developed and performed the world's first ovarian transplantation procedures as well as pioneered new ovarian stimulation protocols for embryo and oocyte freezing for breast and endometrial cancer patients.

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  • She kept calling her son “the baby” or “this baby” that made me really sad. seemed like she had no connection with him. Thank God for your help or else that poor baby’s life would not be as good.

  • I think this is very important for maternal depression Women need to know the impact of being unresponsive, so they can choose to be responsive in those situations even if it is painful

  • Her who? Baby or mother?
    It was obviously frustrating for the baby, though it was really just a very short moment.
    But you can also sense the mother getting increasingly nervous, specially toeards the end. By observing her neck breathing and the eye blinking.

  • I made this mistake.. constantly trying to put him down, to get stuff done. Till I have in and just played with and cuddled him whenever he wanted! I figured I have a lot of time in my life to do house work. He’s only a baby once’

  • I think this is the root of my problems in my early childhood, it made me cry and I am 40.
    This is harming the child.
    I had innerchild therapy and these people were amazing, they restore this what the doctor said ”they’re stuck in that really ugly situation”

  • A very good example on how much a child needs love. If you have been brought up by a mother who is addicted to drugs or alcohol or has mental health problems “The still face” is what you see every day of your life.

  • Omg I have to say that when the mother turned away and then turned back with a really cold face, i was kinda freaked out. And I actually started to tear up a bit when the baby got sooo distressed over time. It was really a great fascinating experiment, but so hard to watch!

    I’m watching this for my Social Science class btw

  • “parent lost volume in part of the brain associated to day dreaming” sounds to me like the dying of all life dream of the parent in question…

  • This is what I am basing my assertion on that moms suffering from depression will have a hard time being present for their baby’s communications. 

  • I can’t remember my mother ever playing with me or being..happy. She usually only talked to me if she thought I did something wrong. I basically had the still-faced mother for a lot longer than one minute.

  • She must not have had experience with babies previously. Most people would have a pretty good idea about toys. There are tons of books that tell you all about development. There is more going on with her than normal!

  • What causes the changes? Is it a psychological response to having a kid or a physiological one based on some type of activity done w/ the child?
    Or something else

  • I’m doing child psychology with the open university and not taking much in at all. Distance learning is proving difficult for me personally, that being said these videos (although not linked by the Uni) are proving to be a godsend when helping simplify the heavy text reading. Thank you!!!!

  • Same-sex couples are not scientifically viable, not even evolutionarily speaking, so no, real scientists should NOT waste their time studying such nonsense.

  • Yes. This experiment has been replicated dozens of times, always with largely the same results. The age range varies as well, with children ranging from about 4 to 12 months all showing the same basic pattern of behavior in this experiment.

  • As someone else pointed out, multiple variables changed. Not only did the mom’s facial expression stop, but so did her speech, hand interaction, movement, etc. The baby wasn’t even looking at the mother half the time when she was interacting, so facial expressions can’t be all of it.

  • Baby can distinguish her parents voices already in the womb, so naturally she preferes her mother and father right after being born and not just any human.

  • Wow, now I actually understand why some people grow up disassociated and uncaring, a child ignored and unappreciated grows up and behaves the only way he knows

  • Hi there. You should look up the concept “good-enough mother (or father)”. It’s the concept that you should attend to your child’s physical and emotional needs, but you should be careful about how much attention you do give them and how fast you attend to their crying/tantrums. You should take care of their needs, but at the same time also give them the opportunity to learn that not every time they cry, they’re going to get what they want. This is necessary to a healthy development. Good luck!

  • There’s nothing wrong with attachment parenting! Get slings so your baby can still be close to you and your wife while you go about your regular routine.

  • How old are they? Because if they are under 12 months (or even 18 months) that is NORMAL. There is no such thing as being “way too attached” for babies. Babies are supposed to be attached. Babies who weren’t on or near caregivers got eaten for most of human history. Their brains are still wired that way.

  • Yes there is and this whole paradigm has been significantly investigated. The babies you describe are often those categorised as avoidant attachment they make up about 20% of middle class n.american population and they are more self reliant. They respond to this test by earlier withdrawal of eye contact with mother, less protest, and have a higher degree of emotional problems later in life than those considered securely attached. They have higher rates of conduct disorder and ADHD later on.

  • This is why narcissistic parents are so destructive to children. As Kohut said it, “When her personality is missing”, when he talked about the most disturbed patients and what these patients have grown up with! A mother/father without emotional face response…. is destroying a childs personality developement.

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  • Damn, it hurt me seeing the kid struggling to get the mother’s response. So cute though. Babies are smarter than people think!:-) Child Development is an amazing subject/course, take it if you can!

  • Kids absolutely feel your stress & emotions! My 13 year old is ADHD & i am so proud & thankful that he is such a cool, sweet, & all around great kid. Im far from perfect, but i will say this…i have spent his entire life (& i mean since i knew he was created), reading to/with him, singing silly songs, ive spent countless hours on the floor playing with him, doing puzzles, & telling stories! & like i said, im not perfect, but i def believe being silly & truly enjoying your kids…well theres def something to it!!

  • Interesting. I seem to struggle with parenting in ways that neurotypicals don’t seem to display. I have ADHD and a lightbulb went off in my brain when this video mentioned the shrinkage in the “day dream” areas of the brain. I’m wondering if there’s a link between my experiences and my executive function disorder. I found my daughters cries to be distressing and had a major depressive episode for the first few years post birth. I still find interacting with her difficult now as she’s a strong trigger of my sensory overload but none the less I still sure do get those warm fuzzy feelings when I get cuddles.

  • If the takeaway from this is that caring for an infant makes your brain better able to care for an infant, an interesting followup study would be other family members such as older children of the new (again) parents are affected. If an older sibling helps heavily with taking care of the newborn, and is of sufficient age that such massive swings of changes aren’t attributable to other factors, does it change them in the same way?