What is maternal instinct?

Everyone probably has some understanding of what is meant by maternal instinct. This article will explain maternal instinct from brain and behavior perspectives.

The brain has a lot to do with maternal instinct — it changes as a result of going through pregnancy and becoming a mother.

This may be called the transition to maternity; and maternal instinct is probably the result of the brain changes that occur through this transition by hormonal and other biological mechanisms that develop during pregnancy and labor, breastfeeding, and interacting and bonding with the baby.

If you look at the brain of a person who isn’t a mother when she looks at pictures of infants, the response in her brain is very different from that of a woman of the same age who is a mother; and it can be readily observed.

Mothers’ brains respond more strongly to infant cues like cries and distress signals, and they respond most strongly to cues from their own infants. But mothers, even with infants who are not their own, respond more strongly to infant cues than non-mothers of the same age.

This is “maternal instinct” — a phenomenon or process that is happening in the brain. It’s a reflex to respond to infant stimuli in the maternal brain networks that is the driver for sensitive maternal behavior. This “maternal brain” circuitry or network begins to develop over the course of pregnancy and continues across childbirth, breastfeeding, and as the child grows and is cared for.

The development of maternal instinct is different for everyone. Sometimes you hear them say they don’t have a good maternal instinct. Usually, this means they have some difficulties with maternal sensitivity. Sometimes those difficulties may appear because their maternal brain circuitry is less or differently developed and is less responsive.

On the other hand, other people may be hypersensitive. They may over-appraise the danger of a situation, for example. In these situations, they may not be able to think straight or know what to do. It’s not a pleasurable experience, as they don’t derive pleasure from the infant, especially when it is in distress.

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