What triggers a mother's protective instinct

The secret of the maternal instinct: How does maternal care actually come about?

It is often said, "Every woman instinctively knows how to care for babies." This is exactly why so many new mothers doubt themselves. It is now known that such doubts are completely unfounded. But these rather outdated sayings still exist and they unsettle many young mothers. So let's take a closer look at it. Is there such a thing as maternal instinct, and if so, how does it actually work?

Does the maternal instinct really exist?

This very special connection between mother and child is described as the maternal instinct, which arises from fertilization or even from the desire to have children. Radical feminists once questioned the maternal instinct and called it pure myth.

The American anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy from the University of California Davis describes the idea of ​​the "loving mother" in her book "Mother Nature" as wishful thinking: "Nature has by no means assigned women the role of the loving, self-sacrificing wet nurse" , says the evolutionary researcher. "The 'maternal instinct', however scientific this term may seem, is neither instinctive nor peculiar to all mothers." Nevertheless, the "natural maternal instinct" is repeatedly the subject of research by biologists, anthropologists, psychiatrists and psychologists. Sometimes only the term "maternal instinct" is questioned, as it is possible that social and biological aspects are mixed up.

What is the maternal instinct?

Maternal behavior is strongly influenced by social and cultural circumstances and shaped by individual experiences. Is it really the case that the so-called maternal instinct is the vigor that tirelessly drives mothers to act for their baby and to care for their child and to sacrifice themselves without thinking?

Of course, it is just that to a certain extent. Ultimately, the mother's instinct is supposed to secure the continued existence of humanity. However, this does not only apply to biological mothers. Because with some people, whether women or men, a particularly strong caring behavior for small, dependent living beings can be developed, even if there is no relationship.

For example, adoptive parents act and develop emotions just as strong as a mother. The so-called mother-child bond can also take place between people who are not related - should it then be called motherly love? Incidentally, this maternal care can also take place across species, so there are also adoptions in the animal kingdom. This is due to the child schema.

What is the child schema?

Scientifically, the maternal instinct can be explained, among other things, with the child scheme that was drawn up by the behavioral scientist Konrad Lorenz. Humans and most animal species automatically react to cute facial features, which act as key stimuli, with a protective and caring behavior, i.e. a kind of mother scheme.

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The child pattern shows itself in baby-typical proportions and facial features: big head, big googly eyes, chubby cheeks and a certain defenselessness, like clumsy behavior, whimpering and crying. These key stimuli are particularly important in humans, as our offspring have a long childhood and the parent-child relationship must be maintained for just as long. In a study by the University of St. Andrews it was found that women of childbearing age in particular respond particularly to the child pattern.

How is the maternal instinct expressed?

For a mother, her baby "naturally" always comes first. She constantly cares about his well-being and has the feeling of being connected to the child even without an umbilical cord. It can often be observed that mothers put on a very specific searching and sometimes skeptical look when their child is not within their reach. Almost all women change their behavior during pregnancy and pay much more attention to their diet.

Every woman who has given birth knows it: At first it is often a shock to see how midwives and co. So routinely bathe, change and care for their own baby. As a new mom, on the other hand, you hardly dare to touch your little arms at all. Being a mother also has a lot to do with experience and habit.

The maternal instinct also takes time

For some mothers, their baby is like the proverbial love at first sight. But by no means for everyone, after all, the baby is still a little wrinkled after the birth and does not necessarily look like it was imagined during the long months of pregnancy.

In addition, this situation is completely new and often a little frightening for the mothers, even if it is the second child. No matter how strong the bond between mom and her baby is, it doesn't mean that she isn't at a loss when faced with the many things a mother needs to know. Sometimes it even becomes too much, especially when family and friends are ready with 1,000 well-intentioned tips for raising children and completely overwhelming young mothers and fathers alike. You don't have to take every advice.

In case of doubt, the following always applies: do not be unsettled! You will still learn a lot and you will soon have a feeling of what your child needs most. Trust in yourself and listen to your gut. You will make it.

Do I love my child enough? Is something wrong with me?

Yes, the idea sounds kind of strange and cruel when you think about it, you don't love your child. However, this does not happen that seldom: Instead of the expected outbreak of joy, your feelings towards this little person are rather indifferent. The result: you have a guilty conscience and feel that you are not a good mother.

Do not let yourself get down, the love for your baby must and may grow as well. The maternal instinct is not a finished product full of positive feelings that suddenly appears as a kind of afterbirth. It is very important that you do not feel ashamed or guilty about the lack of motherhood. The baby blues, the deep soul after giving birth, affects many women and is mostly hormonal. Talk to your midwife or doctor about it and give yourself the time to slowly build the mother-child relationship.

Being with the baby

From day to day the connection between mother and child becomes closer and the affection grows noticeably. With every touch, every gentle stroke and every care, the basic trust of the child is strengthened. If you watch your baby smile when you gently stroke its head, you may even feel real butterflies in your stomach every now and then.

In most clinics, the cot is placed in the mother's room after the birth. Sometimes there are also special mother-and-child rooms, which are even more geared towards the needs of a new mother. During the postpartum period, the mothers gradually get to know and love their child and can count on the help of midwives and nurses.

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