What Happens to a Mother's Brain When Her Baby Cries?

What happens to a mother's brain when her baby cries? What about the father? Does he react in the same way? Today, we'll learn more.
What Happens to a Mother's Brain When Her Baby Cries?
María José Roldán

Written and verified by the psychopedagogue María José Roldán.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Mothers usually worry about their children crying while they’re sleeping. Even though many women can’t even hear the alarm clock everything changes when they become mothers. If their babies need them, they’ll wake up instantly. In this article, we’ll tell you what happens to a mother’s brain when her baby cries. 

A mother’s brain when her baby cries

The sound of a crying baby has a completely different impact on the mother’s brain if we compare it to the sound of an alarm clock. Of course, we’re not the only ones who say this; this information is backed up by science.

According to a study published in the magazine Nature, investigators gave oxytocin (a hormone released in large amounts during labor and breastfeeding) to mouse mothers. As a result, the way the mothers’ brains processed the sound of their babies crying changed. And, it helped them identify and answer to such sounds. 

A mother's brain and a baby crying.

Apparently, this “love hormone” makes a mother more sensitive when it comes to her baby’s needs. Robert Froemke, one of the main investigators from the study previously mentioned, states that oxytocin amplifies the way in which the ear receives the baby’s cries.

Besides, the expert says that the same thing happens to either mouse mothers or human mothers. The sound of their baby is received as an urgent matter.

A physiological response that can’t be controlled

This physiological response allows mothers to react quickly to their babies crying. As time goes by, mothers learn to identify their babies’ needs and, thus, become more effective towards their requirements.

When our babies cry, we don’t always know what they need, we just act following our instincts. We change their diapers, feed them, rock them, etc. Actually, we do this without even realizing we’re doing it. We just do it in order to calm our babies down when they need us during the night.

Eventually, we learn these upbringing skills because babies depend exclusively on us for everything. Therefore, specialists believe that this hormonal change in the brain is what puts a mother on alert when they hear their baby crying. 

A mother’s brain when her baby cries

In both humans and mice, fathers tend to respond to their babies crying. However, their brain’s chemistry is slightly different. The extra oxytocin doesn’t accelerate the father’s reaction.

Mother comforting her baby.

There’s a difference between a mother’s and a father’s sensitivity towards oxytocin. We think that this may happen because men’s oxytocin levels are already at their maximum. When it comes to human brains, there’s evidence to show that mothers and fathers respond differently to their babies crying. 

A mother’s brain is different than a father’s brain

According to a study from the NeuroReport, it tested the brains of 18 men and women through a brain scan while they heard a baby cry. As a result, women’s brain activity showed a state of alert, while men’s brains stayed the same.

This study suggests that there are gender differences in the way babies’ sounds are processed. However, many fathers say that they can’t and don’t sleep while their babies cry. And, this happens due to a good reason. It isn’t a biological accident that babies have the ability to cry in a way that can penetrate parents’ brains, even when our eyes are closed. 

Even though we need to sleep, their sounds penetrate our brains and quickly wake us up from the deepest dream. What’s more, we jump from our beds and run towards our babies to answer their needs. In conclusion, just as your child is biologically developed to be your natural alarm clock, you’re naturally developed to listen to them, even if you can sleep through other loud sounds.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.