cover image Mother Brain: How Neuroscience Is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood

Mother Brain: How Neuroscience Is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood

Chelsea Conaboy. Holt, $27.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-76228-3

Journalist Conaboy debuts with an illuminating examination of the changes the brain goes through during parenthood. Digging into neurological and cognitive research on becoming a parent, Conaboy contends that caregiving isn’t as instinctual as often assumed. She debunks the “maternal instinct,” citing research that found parents who don’t carry their children undergo similar neural changes to those who do, regardless of gender, which suggests that “ ‘maternal behavior’ is... a basic human characteristic.” These changes take time to develop, Conaboy writes, reporting on research that found “circuitry involved in social cognition” strengthens in new parents as they learn to decipher their child’s nonverbal cues. She looks at the evolutionary benefits of the universal human capacity to bond with and care for a child regardless of one’s biological relationship with them, noting that some scientists believe this ability might have been the “fundamental characteristic that set humans apart.” As for the policy implications of her research, she asserts the need for universal paid family leave based on studies that found it lowers rates of postpartum depression, preterm births, and infant mortality. Conaboy’s detailed research and eye-opening myth-busting add up to a cogent argument that “all human adults... are fundamentally changed by the act of parenting.” Surprising and enlightening, this should be required reading for all caregivers. (Sept.)