Go Figure: Fathers Recognize Their Babies’ Cries Just as Well as Mothers

From a recent Smithsonian.com article:

It’s often believed that nobody can recognize a baby’s cry as accurately as his or her mother, but a study published today in Nature Communications by a team of French scientists led by Erik Gustafsson of the University de Saint-Etienne found that fathers can do it equally well—if they spend as much time with their offspring as mothers do.

When the researchers split the data along gender lines, they found something interesting. The factor that best predicted which parents were best at identifying their child’s cries was the amount of time the parent spent with their babies, regardless of if they were the mother or father

The part I’ve bolded is what stuck out to me. Regardless of gender, parents who spent more time with their newborns were able to correctly identify their cries. Science!


EZ & MD…the early days.

I’ve written before about MD and his quest for some semblance of paternity leave from work when EZ was born. He cobbled together a month off between 1 week of allotted paternity leave, 1 week of paid vacation, and 2 weeks taken under FMLA. If he could have had more time to spend with our new family, I know he would have taken it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an option. And, in the reality of the United States, both paternity and maternity leave don’t come easily. Parents are stuck using paid vacation or sick time, or making the difficult choice between going back to work or staying home without a paycheck and benefits.

Pile on top of this the cultural status quo of women being the primary caregivers (leaving men to hurry back to work post birth) and then we wonder why men who haven’t spent much time with their children can’t identify their cries… The Smithsonian piece sums up what this all means rather nicely at the end:

Fathers might have the same innate parenting skills as mothers, but only if they make the enormous time investment necessary. This study indicates that it’s usually not the case, and though its sample size was extremely limited, broader data sets show the same. According to the most recent Pew Research data on parenting, the average American mother spends 14 hours per week in child care duties, compared to just 7 hours for the average father—so while men can develop the ability to know their babies just as well as women, most fathers out there probably haven’t so far.

The question now becomes… how do we get to the place where parents can make that time investment?


15 thoughts on “Go Figure: Fathers Recognize Their Babies’ Cries Just as Well as Mothers

  1. Well written post. Fathers should be able to have as much time off as mothers do. Where I live it is 6 weeks leave for mothers. I also think that society is still somewhat old fashioned in thinking that women should be with the children. I do my best to let my husband know our kids need him just as much as they need me.

      • Yes it is crummy however one new trend I have noticed is there seems to be more stay at home dads which I think could possibly be a step in the right direction.

      • I wonder if the growing presence of stay-at-home dads will impact policy in anyway? That would be interesting (and sadly, telling of our sexist culture at large…i.e. now that men are staying home real policy change occurs. sigh.)

      • It would be interesting to see if it would impact policy. Brings me to think how sexist our society really is. It is quite sad that after so much time it is still an issue.

      • I didn’t know what it was either. I am not sure where it originates from, but I think that the intention is blogger networking. Life is so busy for all of us…I barely get a weekly post in…so know that acceptance is optional…just wanted to pick you as I like your writing!!!:)

  2. I agree that men should have an active role in caring for their children but not full time unless absolutely necessary such as the mother dies. Then he should remarry and be very cautious in whom he does marry because a step mother doesn’t cut it so many cases. I think the creator of marriage knew what was best for us and still does. Men should work their eight hours and women should work eight hours at home caring for their child and then the father should take over for a good period of time while mother does other things. This doesn’t mean all the rest of the house work because supper should be ready pretty well when the father comes home. The mom should have time for leisurely bath and rest pic and then after supper they both should enjoy their child or children. That is normal upbringing of children. Dressing boys as girls or vice-versa is a no no. That’s what wrong with this world today. They watch it on TV and then mommy wants to dress up her boy as a girl. Don’t pervert the norm and society will become more normal if it is possible anymore.

  3. Men may recognize the cries, but they don’t respond to them in the same way that women do.


    Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have uncovered firm evidence for what many mothers have long suspected: women’s brains appear to be hard-wired to respond to the cries of a hungry infant.

    Researchers asked men and women to let their minds wander, then played a recording of white noise interspersed with the sounds of an infant crying. Brain scans showed that, in the women, patterns of brain activity abruptly switched to an attentive mode when they heard the infant cries, whereas the men’s brains remained in the resting state.


    • Yeah, science… says to be careful drawing conclusions. This, like the ability to recognize one’s child’s cry, might be related to time investment. Women invest more time, they respond more. So gender could be a confounding factor.

      • Someone didn’t read the link. The researchers controlled for parental time investment by also testing nonparents. Results were the same.

        The researchers analyzed brain images from 18 adults, parents and nonparents. The researchers found that when participants listened to the typical infant cries, the brain activity of men and women differed. When hearing a hungry infant cry, women’s brains were more likely to disengage from the default mode, indicating that they focused their attention on the crying. In contrast, the men’s brains tended to remain in default mode during the infant crying sounds. The brain patterns did not vary between parents and nonparents.

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