Mama Bear Mode Is A Real Thing And Science Confirms It

Science shows mama bear mode to be a real phenomenon of a mom's brain.We’ve always known Mama Bear mode was a real thing, but new research in rats confirms that when it comes to decision-making, being a mother will make you prioritize caring for your children over most everything else.

It’s not necessarily news to us mothers. We know that when it comes to decision-making, the second that little human is ours, we start looking at the world differently. Every decision we make takes their lives and consequences into account, and that sometimes even comes at the price of overlooking favorable decisions for ourselves.

But now, research published in eNeuro, the open-access journal of the Society For Neuroscience, confirms that the brain of a mom takes on changes when motherhood come along, and works strongly to attach decision-making to choices that prioritize their children.

Related: Meeting my Mama Bear

The researchers were investigating the role of motherhood when it comes to decision-making and the engagement of drug seeking-or using. As making decisions uses the prefrontal cortex and requires the brain to essentially weed out multiple streams of information to make the best choice, in mothers who use or were using cocaine, this may be affected. Cocaine and other drug use also affect the prefrontal cortex, making decision-making difficult when one’s priority is to continue to seek drugs.

The research team wanted to see what would happen hypothetically if drug-using mothers had to choose between their drug-seeking or their new child, as cocaine use in postpartum women is a health problem that can tragically impact her ability to care for her child properly, not to mention have a life-long impact on both child and mother. They wanted to look at the impact of maternal motivation a mother has can help provide resistance to drug-seeking behavior and be a part of a highly effective therapy program.

Mariana Pereira and Joan I. Morrell are both with The Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in Newark, NJ. They hypothesized that since the most effective addiction therapies in drug-using situations are the ones that emphasize the baby/mother relationship, the mother’s brain most direct her to prioritize her child over drugs.
Pereira and Morrell tested rats by inactivating different parts of their prefrontal cortices with an anesthetic and. They looked at the rats’ preference for their pups or cocaine. Before their prefrontal cortices were inactivated, 40% of the rats preferred to be in a room with cocaine, 40% preferred to be in a pup-associated room and 20% preferred a neutral room.
But, when the researchers inactivated the infralimbic cortices of the rats, 78% of them preferred the cocaine room and NONE of them chose the pup-associated room. They found the opposite to be true when they prelimbic cortex was inactivated–71% of them preferred the pup room and NONE chose the cocaine room. They also found that when the mother’s infralimbic cortex was inactivated, the rat mothers’ maternal behaviors toward their pups decreased.
This all boils down to a mom’s brain recruiting powers of discrimination and prioritization from the infralimbic cortex in order to prioritize their baby over competing desires. The infralimbic region of the brain plays a role in the modulation of fear-related (or protective) behaviors, and particularly in fear responses, which would be important to identify for protecting one’s child. The prelimbic cortex is less emotive, and more focused on working memory–doing what was always done. For new moms, with a new human as their responsibility, the actions of deactivating both of those systems makes total sense.
As does the Mama Bear Mode we utilize on the regular.
Photo: Gorynvd/Shutterstock 

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