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Motherhood: Instinct or Learned

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Reproductive System related image Photo: Getty Images

There was an internet video circulating a few weeks ago that was an unbelievable example of the maternal instinct in animals. A female dog from a rescue shelter had recently had puppies, all of which had been adopted. The shelter was notified of a litter of newborn kittens that had lost their Mom. Employees at the shelter panicked for they knew that it would be very difficult to hand feed newborn kittens as often as they needed to eat. They feared for their survival.

Then someone had an idea. The kittens were introduced to the female dog and the most amazing thing happened. She nursed the baby kittens. She licked their fur and even picked one up that had fallen into her water dish and carried it in her mouth back to the safety of her comfy bed.

Seeing the video is unbelievable. This dog cared for the helpless kittens as if they were her own puppies.

One of the greatest fears of pregnant women is the fear of parenting and not knowing what to do when the baby arrives. So how much comes from instinct and how much is learned? Is there really a mother’s instinct? What about the natural feeling to love, nourish and protect a child?

According to Femaleforum.com, “Scientists in Japan took MRI scans of mothers’ brains to determine their reaction to their children as well as other children. From their research they concluded that there is enough evidence to suggest that mother’s truly do have a maternal instinct.” But what does that mean?

Further research states, “Society tells women that it is normal to want children and that it is expected of women. Scientists tell us that giving birth brings on maternal instinct through a massive release of hormones. ” (Femaleforum.com)

As stated in Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s analysis of maternity, ''Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection,” she explores the idea “that motherhood is neither instinctive nor automatic.” Her book contains maternal history facts, and exploration of the possible reasons for infanticides. While historically interesting, I was still just curious about the human nature that dwells within women to care for a child.

Her book suggests that “in order to thrive, babies must become attached to a caregiver.” This is not limited to the infant’s mother if the person involved is completely devoted to caring for the child.

This makes sense to me. Have you ever dropped your baby off at a day care, day after day and suddenly one morning, you feel that your baby prefers the smiling employee to you? You hold back tears as he practically leaps from your arms into those of another woman. This can be reassuring for working moms but potentially heartbreaking as well.

What about the horrifying headlines where mothers are accused of unthinkable crimes against their children? And those that actually commit these crimes? What about their need to protect their child? Is their instinct missing?

Femaleforum.com reports that “a growing number of women, despite having children will tell you that they have no maternal instinct. In addition, a large population of women are choosing to stay childless.”

What is the truth behind maternal instinct?


Early Motherhood: Ties that bond- Maternal Instinct Only a Myth

Maternal Instinct; By Anne Magurran

Edited by Jody Smith

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