Can Infant Crying Shrink Your Brain?

Mommy Brain. We all attribute our forgetfulness during pregnancy and with small children to it, and it works as a great excuse. However, it turns out there's actually something going on there, something real.

All those new emotions, thoughts, reactions, and instincts that come with birthing a baby? Those come from Mommy Brain, which apparently is very real, but it's much different than what most people think it it. The truth is, becoming a mom makes you smarter.

This really could be considered physical, scientific visual proof of maternal instinct being a solid thing ... except not all moms benefit, and some more than others, possibly as a result of parenting style or even mental health.


Some of the chemicals that encourage this brain growth the most -- prolactin and oxytocin -- actually come from breastfeeding, so maybe in addition to the immediate "happy hormones" that go through the body while nursing, this could also be connected to natural growth of mothering instinct? We know breastfeeding is designed to heal your uterus, cervix, and even your breasts, since breast cancer rates are lowest in women who've breastfed, so it's not far-fetched that it's designed to help bond with your infant in a very quantifiable, awesome way as well.

But moms who can't nurse, no worries, skin-to-skin contact, referred to as sensory-tactile information, and other forms of constant contact with your baby seem to provide some of the same benefits (for you and baby). The scientists are even looking into the possibility of triggering this same reaction in adoptive parents as well -- how cool would that be?

It seems that the parents who not only were most enamoured with their infants, but more involved as well, experienced the larger brain growth. We know that baby-wearing often reduces crying, breastfed babies are less likely to have colic, bad gas problems, vomiting, or reflux, all of which can make it harder for a new mom to be as happy all the time as she deserves to be. I know Rowan's first couple months before we stopped the occasional formula and started the reflux medications were really, really tough.

They speculated that it was possible that people suffering from postpartum depression, which can often lead to odd feelings of detachment, could even suffer shrinking in these particular areas, meaning it's that much more important to recognize when you need help -- and to get it, and to spend as much time with your baby when you can, working on being happy with them and with yourself.

The suggestion of this article is that the more involved and focused on your infant you are, the more your brain will grow. The more that Mommy Instinct will grow. That falls in line with other things I've read over the years that show that both mommy and baby in families who focus on detachment (often called forced independence) -- not picking up a newborn for fear of spoiling, practicing CIO -- show detachment in more areas in general: for example, parents who practice cry-it-out show less responsiveness emotionally to their child's cries during the day, not just at night. The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health says that infant crying strongly increases parental stress (even "controlled crying") and it can be a trigger for violence. That definitely isn't happy-bonding time.

So while not all parenting styles are the same for everyone, making sure you spend as much time being happy with your infant, not being stressed out, and really focusing on bonding has extreme benefits, including brain growth, made exceptionally amazing by the fact that the adult grey matter doesn't ever have any other chance to grow, ever. Take advantage of it and really bond with your baby, and connect -- skin-on-skin contact, quick responses to crying, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, or even just carrying them in your arms, all show reduced stress on behalf of the mother and infant and quite possibly could help you grow that brain.

What to do now? Go hug your baby! And the next time your mother-in-law tells you to put the baby down because you're spoiling him, tell her you want your mothering instinct and brain to grow, and that you need to reduce stress, so if she's not going to do your dishes, she should kindly leave.

Well, maybe not, if you still want a Christmas present from her.

Do you feel more involved, responsive parenting styles foster natural mothering instinct?


Image via Reigh LeBlanc/Flickr

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