Mommy Brain vs. Daddy Brain

Mommy Brain vs. Daddy Brain

Brain research on new moms and dads has opened a window into what is going on in your partner's and your brains as you become parents. With the experiences of many new parents to draw upon, here are a few things both of you will want to understand about each other.

What’s on Her Mind?

What's on her mind? Not you. In Boot Camp for New Moms, both rookie and veteran moms tell our coaches what they feel is on their minds, and the illustration represents what they say. The mind space she previously allocated to you is now largely devoted to her baby. Her thoughts about herself have also declined, along with everything else on her mind. She has a voracious appetite for any information about babies, which includes alarmist, clickbait nonsense from the media and the internet. If you think she no longer cares much about you, you’re right. She still cares for you, just not nearly as much. 

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What’s on Your Mind?

What's on your mind? A lot. You have a broad range of concerns, the main one being how to pay for everything. Jobs take on added importance. The baby is on your mind, just not nearly as much as on Mom's. Dads tend to think about the bigger, longer-term picture, which is one of the assets you bring to your family. Fortunately there’s no DaddyLand to generate stress for you.

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BTW, these illustrations do not reflect the actual regions of your brains; they just indicate what rookie moms and dads feel is on their minds.

Why She’s Crazy & You’re Stupid

George Carlin’s observation that women are crazy and men are stupid is perhaps most evident when a couple has their first baby on the way. 

Check out the full explanation of the impact the hormone oxytocin has on our brains.

 This chart illustrates when and how much oxytocin your baby generates in a new dad, relative to mom. It also tells the story of why rookie dads and moms-to-be are so different in their preoccupation with the baby: mom experiences the oxytocin her baby generates in her long before you experience yours. 

Hers goes into full throttle at birth, and all the intimate contact she has with her infant like breastfeeding continues to pump her up. But once Junior arrives and you get hands-on with him, you start catching up. Mom’s dosage calms down after a while, while yours will keep growing.

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How New Mom's & Dad's Minds Work

After your baby arrives, Mom's and your brain “compatibility” gets better, or worse, depending on how you respond. Your brains are optimized for separate but critical functions to enable a broad skill set for a baby. If you don’t appreciate and leverage each other’s skill set, then compatibility to work together sinks. This includes when mom’s vigilance and motivation for perfect care of her baby overrides your instinct to learn how to care for your baby as you go. Understanding how each other’s brains works is the key to collaboration.

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This 2014 study scanned the brains of new mothers taking “primary care” of their babies, and new fathers taking “secondary care” as they watched videos of themselves with their infants. Their brain scans tracked activation in two “parental caregiving” neural networks:

  1.   An emotional processing network associated with vigilance, reward, intuition, and motivation, with immediate fight-or-flight responses.
  1.   A cognitive thinking network associated with social understanding, empathy, future planning, social goal interpretation, and prediction. 

When brain responses were measured, the mothers (grey) showed an eight-times greater signal change in their emotional processing network over fathers (black), who in turn showed a 2.3-times greater signal change in their cognitive thinking network over mothers.  

This indicates why mothers are vigilant, tuned in to their babies’ needs, and emotionally rewarded in their care of their babies, and fathers are more relaxed and think and plan for the bigger picture. Mothers and fathers' brains complement each other in the raising of infants, or conflict with each other, depending upon how you two react. 

Talk About This

If neither of you understands what’s happening in the other’s head, conflict begins. This is where a new mom and dad’s relationship tends to start heading south. 

If you want to avoid becoming part of the two-thirds of all relationships that decline once your baby arrives, share this Mommy Brain/Daddy Brain information with her and talk about it. The objective is not for you to get back on her mind now (maybe just a little), but later when you settle in as a family. A talk should also assure you that, even though she’s not thinking about you, she still cares about you. And assure her that you know this.

Rookie moms take off like a rocket headed to the moon; rookie dads are more like a B-52, which needs a lot of runway to get off the ground but carries a heavy payload.