So many of us know the heart- wrenching sound of a crying baby and feel a wave of relief when they are soothed. But have you ever wondered why a baby’s cries have such a powerful effect on us?
All across the world parents are trying to stop their babies crying or wondering why they aren’t crying, and almost every emotion in between as they struggle to deal with new babies.
We here at Babies.co.nz would like to extend our best wishes to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the newest addition to their household wee Princess Charlotte. We know that even Dukes and Duchesses feel the same anxiety when they hear their baby crying as parents in New Zealand do.
Having a new baby is an intense and trying time and so when we saw the latest research into how a crying baby can physically change parents we thought we would share the interesting news with parents in an effort to help them understand how such a small person can inspire such huge emotions. The new study also goes some way to explaining why some new mothers have a sense of being attuned to their babies crying – because they are. It isn’t telepathy and it isn’t crazy, it is biology and science has just explained the intricacies of the ‘instinct to soothe’.
When we hear a baby cry something in our very cells wants to stop this plaintive little noise. We know that this is the only way babies can communicate their needs and so it isn’t a big surprise to many parents to hear that scientists recently discovered powerful chemicals are triggered when babies cry.
Apparently listening for a babies cries and caring once the cries are heard is a learned behaviour. New mothers aren’t able to hear their child cry through brick walls or a deep sleep this is a behaviour that is learned in the first few weeks of parenthood, which explains why sleep deprivation is also a new experience at the same time.
A recent study by prestigious science magazine Nature explains how the hormone oxytocin primes our nerve cells to hear when our baby is crying. Oxytocin has widespread effects in the brain and is involved in birth, breast-feeding and bonding with baby, and Robert Froemke of the New York University School of Medicine has recently completed a trial examining the role oxytocin plays in mothers distinguishing the sounds their baby makes.
Mothers have to learn to tune in to the sound of their baby crying and oxytocin helps trigger this learning by ‘rewarding’ the brain with a flood of feel good chemicals, encouraging and stimulating it to repeat the process. Dr Froemke’s research identified a neat loop – baby cries, oxytocin floods the mother’s brain and the brain’s neurons become better at recognising baby’s cries. This loops continue with the result that the mother develops an innate responsiveness to her baby’s crying and actually receives chemical reinforcement to react to the cries.
This is a perfect example of babies and nature working together to get what they need. The baby uses the only method it can to communicate and nature responds by sending chemical messages, oxytocin, and the equivalent to a pat on the back to the mother’s brain as a reward. All to ensure that mothers and babies work together without conscious communication in harmony.
Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as ‘the bonding hormone’ and is involved in the initiation of maternal behaviour, making it almost impossible for mothers to ignore their baby’s crying. Other researchers have found a myriad of ways oxytocin influences reproduction. It plays a big role bonding females and males together as well as mothers and babies.
Through evolution oxytocin has played a “central role in the more complicated aspects of reproductive behaviour. For these reasons, we call oxytocin the great facilitator of life,” says Dr Froemke.
It isn’t all just chemicals though. We here at Babies.co.nz know that love is bigger than chemicals and hormones in our bloodstream. We know the special bond that parents have with their children. Although the joys of being a parent aren’t all rational, and at 3 o’clock in the morning any pleasurable chemical is welcomed parenthood is a truly wonderful journey.