Yes, Moms and Dads DO React Differently to Babies Crying
If you've ever wondered if you're imagining things when it comes to how moms and dads react when a baby cries, allow us to be the first to say: you're not!
Turns out, even science has proven that there are some major differences in how moms and dads react to a baby crying. So all that wondering you're doing in your head about whether or not your husband is crazy may just be a tad unfounded. Well, actually, I take that back–in the baby stage, anything you're wondering about your husband and his useless nipples is fair game. But we really do mean it on the crying thing, so bear with us.
How moms and dads hear crying differently in babies
So what I'm about to tell you may shock you, but keep in mind that this is a super-scientific study from, you know, medical and research people who are professionals in what they do, but essentially, a study in the journal Neuroreport came to the following conclusion about the difference in how men's and women's brains react to a baby crying:
“These results reveal gender-dependent modulation of brain responses to infant requests to be fed, and specifically they indicate that women interrupt mind-wandering when exposed to the sounds of infant hunger cries, whereas men carry on without interruption. Specifically, dorsal medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate areas, known to be involved in mind-wandering (the stream of thought typical of awake rest), remained active in men during exposure to infant cries, whereas in women activity in these regions decreased.”
Shall I break that down into layman's terms for us? Unscientifically speaking, that sentence basically boils down to: “Women actually pay more attention when a baby is crying, while men continue daydreaming about whatever the heck they were thinking about, no worries!”
Are you even surprised? I have to admit that biologically speaking, the difference between how a male and female brain might respond differently to a baby makes sense. Strictly in the primal sense, a female would be automatically cued to respond to a baby crying because 1) she's the one who feeds the baby and isn't that usually our #1 go-to move when a baby cries, along with the rest of the world? “Oh, she must be hungry!” (Even if she just ate 12 seconds ago, but don't get me started there…) And 2) It's usually in the mom's best interest to make a move to that crying baby right away, unless she wants to deal with a literal flowing river of milk.
Dads, on the other hand, well, there's really no rush, is there? It's not like their boobs start filling up with milk or they know that they are the source of nutrition that the baby needs ASAP. Might as well finish that thought they were having before going to pick the baby up, right? Ugh. But of course, as the common refrain goes: Not all men! And it's true–my husband has actually been wonderful with all four of our babies. Often times, especially at night, he would even hear the baby before I did and have the baby changed, freshly-diapered, and swaddled and in my arms before I even opened my eyes fully.
You should also know that the study looked specifically at male and females and not specifically at parents, so there could be a big difference in how a dad responds to a baby crying, especially his own, versus a single dude without a baby in sight. However, regardless of parent status, the study also noted that across the board and across cultures, men and women do seem to react differently to a baby crying. Men, for example, are more likely to feel anger or irritation at the sound of a baby crying or see the baby as not really needing anything, while women feel more sympathetic and nurturing to the baby. I would beg to differ that those feelings vastly depend on how much sleep either parent has gotten over the past week, but that's just me.
Either way, if you're a new mom currently struggling with how differently you and your male partner seem to be reacting when your baby cries, have no fear: it could just be the different ways your brain works. But be sure to speak up when you need your partner to pick that baby up a little more quickly because your brain needs all the help it can get right now!