How a baby's cry actually affects your brain

If you’re a working mom sheltering in with your kiddos, there are some distractions you are hardwired not to ignore. Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark found that hearing a baby cry triggers your brain into action before you’re even aware of it, which is why checking in with your little one is a visceral response even when there are other caretakers around (via Cerebral Cortex).

“For the parent, rapid responding to an infant in distress is an adaptive behavior, functioning to ensure offspring survival,” noted the researchers. “These differences were observed in adults who were not parents, perhaps indicative of a universal brain-based ‘caregiving instinct.'” This means that every adult within earshot will be triggered as well, which means your baby is likely to always have watchful, protective eyes on him or her.

What’s more, infants may develop a whiny cry as early as 10 months of age and reach peak effectiveness once they learn to speak, Rose Sokol-Chang, of the American Psychological Association, tells The New York Times. Indeed, one of Sokol-Chang’s studies found that whining proved even more distracting than an infant crying, with the purpose being to get an adult’s attention quickly, according to the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology.

How to handle your baby crying when you're working

So what’s a working-from-home mother to do? If there’s a designated caretaker on duty while you work, try setting some boundaries with both your kids and your employers, suggests Crystal Clark, an associate professor at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University to The New York Times. Proactively managing expectations will help set you up for success when your instincts kick into overdrive, so let your employer know about your extenuating circumstances and come up with a visual cue such as a sign to let your kids know it’s your time to work and not to disturb you. 

As for those baby cries? Invest in some noise-canceling headphones if you have reliable help and need to focus, or simply allow yourself a short break and put it in perspective. “Assuming you don’t have a million-dollar meeting in the next five minutes, you don’t need to take that long to hold your child,” Clark says. And you can use this quick connection as a reminder of what you have to look forward to at the end of your work day.

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