How Parents’ Brains Are Rewired to Nurture, Protect, and Guide


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Ever since I became a parent, I have had a recurring dream. Similar to the falling dream, it wakes me from a deep sleep with muscle spasms and a racing heart. This dream usually implies that I am dropping or being unable to catch one of my two children.

I wake up just as impact is imminent.

It’s safe to say that these dreams, whatever form they take, are the internal insecurities of my parenthood. They also underscore for me the change in the way we think, act and nurture as almost everything we do as parents becomes so intrinsically connected to our children. Even while dreaming. The fact is that when we become parents, our brain structure changes in ways that better support us and our offspring in these very difficult days.

Pregnancy and early motherhood represent the most dynamic change as mothers grow, give birth and care for a newborn. Research has found that new mothers become more alert to threats and have greater sensitivity to infant cues, as well as increased attachment to their baby as our brain responds to the new dynamism of motherhood. This psychological adaptation of heightened maternal sensitivity strengthens our ability to care for our children.

Evidence also shows that a father’s brain undergoes a dramatic change with the birth of a child. An increase in brain gray matter highlights changes in parenting behavior and connections, which means the transformation into parenthood is not just tied to the person who gave birth, but rather enhanced by the act of parenting. parenthood itself. Studies using structural MRI have consistently confirmed fundamental parental brain growth with increases in gray matter seen in processing areas involving sensory and social information. These changes strongly support our adjustment to parenthood, which makes sense when we haven’t slept in days and still feel an outpouring of warm love watching the baby nap. It is nature that expertly rewires our behaviors for the good of preserving humanity.

Of course, this does not mean that complicity will be immediate, that we will be able to soothe a restless baby or that imaginary play will become second nature. Much of this comes with time, support, and practice. The transition to parenthood is a unique experience although it is equally shared. Everyone reacts differently to these gray matter alterations.

Foster connection

The transition to parenthood is not subtle. We are immersed in sleepless or broken nights, constant attention and an intensely overwhelming situation. Adjusting to parenthood is mentally and physically exhausting, but changes in our brains are helping the transition. The main objective of these modifications is to promote and develop the parent-child bond. This manipulation and encouragement of social bonds with our babies is necessary for their development.

“The social/emotional right brain of the developing infant is developed and shaped by the social/emotional right brain of its parents,” says Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist and author of 15-Minute Parenting. “The parent-infant bond, especially during the first year of life, plays a crucial role in infant brain formation.”

Joanna Fortune

Joanna Fortune

Born with 25% the volume of an adult brain, a newborn’s brain wants and wants to grow. In fact, within a year, a baby’s brain will grow rapidly and continue at a breakneck pace until the age of five compared to any other stage of its development. This early growth leaves a lasting impression on their ability to learn and grow throughout their lives. It shapes their brain development.

As our parental brain is in sync with that of our newborn, the changes that have taken place are perfectly suited to foster connection. When infants receive a level of care that brings them naturally into contact with their caregivers, their well-being and social skills develop rapidly and lay the foundation for their early years.

Play plays a central role in the development of our children. As Fortune puts it, “research shows that neurons fire and grow when a child playfully interacts with their primary caregiver. Such interactions not only positively influence a young child’s psychology and emotional development , but they have also been shown to affect the development of his young brain.

Romantic relationship

It is in romantic relationships with the adults in their lives that children are strongly influenced. As responsive and dependable parents, we nurture their growth and development by responding to their coos, smiles and cries. Our reactions and responses are the building blocks of brain development.

“Research shows that an infant’s reading and responding to cues are more important for brain development than any structured learning activity,” says Fortune. “Just as early responses to care are important for the developing infant brain, the brains of new mothers also undergo neurobiological changes that further support the attunement necessary for the full development of the relationship. Changes in the parental brain enable responsive responses to infants.

“For example, the sound of a baby crying or a picture of a baby activates various regions of the brain (associated with regulation, emotional response and executive functioning and circuits that activate parental empathy and sensitivity ) at the parent.”

As parents, we are more adaptive than we realize.

Our brains literally transform before our children are even born so that we can give them the best possible start in life. So while I can still wake up with a terrifying jump thinking my kids are falling off a high windowsill and I’m throwing my arms out grabbing nothing but air in the dark, those dreams tell me that my brain wires have been altered somewhat to be always ready to nurture, protect and guide my children.


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