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It’s science: How mamas comfort crying babies is universal

While awaiting the birth of their first child, most expectant mothers eagerly devour any parenting book, class or piece of advice that comes their way. But a powerful new study shows the most important trait is already within us: a strong sense of intuition.

Proof of this? New mothers from 11 countries scattered through all regions of the world responded to their infant cries in much the same way—by picking them up, holding them and reassuring them.

For the study, published this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, researchers observed the behaviors of 684 mothers of 5-month-old babies. The researchers then did brain examinations of new mothers in the United States, as well as experienced mothers in China and Italy.

The common neurological responses of these mothers suggested the way we care for our babies is primarily instinctual rather than learned.

This is further validation that mothers’ brains aren’t only wired to respond to their infant’s cries in specific, meaningful ways—but we also know how to respond to our sweet babies.

“Parental caregiving blends tuition and intuition,” the authors wrote. “Some aspects of parenting are learned, as through culture, but parents also rely on their instincts in caregiving.”

What the researchers also found about the reaction to crying babies from mothers versus women without children is amazing: Across all of the cultures, “Mothers exhibited more pronounced neural responses in brain areas involved in emotional processing in response to infant cries” than non-mothers.

That means there’s something that clicks inside our brains when we become mothers. The researchers call it the innate ability to process an “emotionally important signal.” We think you could simply call it love. ?

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