This is what happens to a mother's brain when her baby cries

Around the world, new mums appear to have a universal response both in their behaviours and in their brains when they hear their babies cry, according to a recent study.

Around the world, new mums appear to have a universal response both in their behaviours and in their brains when they hear their babies cry, according to a recent study.

In this new study, mums from 11 countries consistently picked up, held and talked to their little ones when they heard their baby cry. MRI scans were also taken of mothers' brains, which revealed heightened activity in regions tied to caregiving, movement and speech on hearing their little one cry. Fascinating.

Unfortunately, evolution didn’t give babies many ways to communicate, but the method they have, crying, sure gets the job done.

Another study showed, upon hearing a lost pup’s cries, mother mice promptly go and fetch the pup by the scruff of its neck. But this behaviour has to be learned — a first-time mum isn’t as attuned to the sounds of her pups’ cries. As she gets the hang of that whole mothering thing, the mama mouse’s brain gets better at picking the sound of a distant crying pup out of the background noise.

In the brain, the hormone oxytocin helps certain nerve cells to better hear their baby cry, this new study shows.

This hormone has many uses in the brain and body- It’s hugely involved in birth breastfeeding and bonding.

The study showed the same mice that were given more levels of’ oxytocin responded immediately to the sound of a pup’s cry. That wasn’t even their own offspring!!
Research shows when a baby cries, oxytocin floods the mother’s brain, sound-sending neurons get better at recognizing cries, and mother grows more responsive to a baby’s cry. All in all, it’s a perfect example of babies using what they have to get what they need.

The study was done with mice, and it’s not clear how the results would apply to human babies and mothers. But there’s good evidence that mothers’ brains are intensely attuned to their babies.

Another study showed- While in a brain scanner, 18 men and women were subjected to hearing a hungry baby cry. In women’s brains, the sound interrupted the normal brain activity that’s associated with awake resting, jolting them out of their quiet daydreaming. The brains of men, in contrast, “carry on without interruption,” the researchers wrote in a 2013 NeuroReport paper.

18 people is a small study but from my experience with four little ones, the sound of one cry would wake me where my husband will still be sleeping soundly. Maybe I can go a little easier on him if science is really to blame?
Laura Doyle, Mum of 4. Kyle 9, Noa Belle 4, Briar 2 and Milla 12 months. Breastfeeder, co-sleeper, coffee drinker. Staying positive and inspired in the chaos of it all. Writer and blogger at

Laura Doyle

Mum of four, Gentle parent living on coffee and trying always to stay positive and motivate in the midst of the madness.

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