Every once in a while it’s good to check in with reality. Today’s check-in involves the dread maternal instinct. It ought to be obvious to everyone who is not wearing ideological blinders that mothers have a maternal instinct. Human infants would probably not survive if their mothers did not know instinctively how to care for them.
If this is true, then, in the matter of mothering children, men and women are not interchangeable. Obviously, this will have an impact on how women make decisions about how much time they spend bringing up children and how much time they spend on the job. And it might even have an impact on how well pregnant women or new mothers can do their jobs.
Today’s synopsis of the research, by Prof. Laura Glynn, comes to us from the Scientific American. Since we are dealing with science, the information does not require extensive analysis or interpretation.
About 80 percent of new mothers report difficulties remembering things that once came naturally, and although not all studies support this, the weight of the evidence shows that during pregnancy, women exhibit measurable declines in important cognitive skills.
A 2010 study found that in the first few months after giving birth, human females show changes in several key brain regions. Specifically, they often exhibit increased volume in the hypothalamus, striatum and amygdala—areas essential for emotional regulation and parental motivation—as well as in regions governing decision making and protective instincts.
We can glean further evidence from behavioral changes during pregnancy. Many women exhibit blunted physiological and psychological responses to stress, which may afford mother and fetus protection from the potentially adverse effects of taxing situations. And in the postpartum period, the hormones that sustain breast-feeding maintain these dampened stress responses.
Pregnant women are also better at recognizing fear, anger and disgust. This enhanced ability to identify and discriminate among emotions may help mothers to ensure their infants' survival. Research from my laboratory has shown that the hormone exposures in pregnancy—for example, high levels of estrogens and oxytocin—are associated with heightened maternal responsiveness and sensitivity to the environment and infants' needs.
We are well past the time when people should have gotten over the notion that these biological changes are trivialities and that gender, not to say motherhood is a social construct. You do believe in science, don't you?