New Book Explains Why the "Maternal Instinct" Myth Is So Damaging

Mother and researcher Chelsea Conaboy debunks the myth of the maternal instinct in her new book in hopes of giving moms across the world a break.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Assistant Editor
Updated September 13, 2022
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You’ve probably heard it talked about before—that illustrious maternal instinct that seemingly appears once you have your child. Centered around the idea that women are able to instantly discern and satisfy baby’s every need, this pressure to be “the perfect mother” is an age-old idea that has left many behind and unseen.

But what if maternal instincts aren’t something women are born with? Mother, author and researcher Chelsea Conaboy points out that most of what we know as maternal instinct today was come up with by men and societal expectations, not through science. The idea of knowing just what to do when baby comes is largely a myth, a damaging one at that, Conaboy argues in her new book. When we put unrealistic expectations and ideals on mothers post-birth, we are making an already difficult postpartum time even more isolating.

In Mother Brain: How Neuroscience Is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood, Conaboy “explodes the concept of maternal instinct and tells a new story about what it means to become a parent. Weaving the latest neuroscience and social psychology together with new reporting, Conaboy reveals unexpected upsides, generations of scientific neglect and a powerful new narrative of parenthood,” the Amazon preview of the book states.

It’s Conaboy’s hope that by peeling back society’s expectations of a mother and unearthing the true science behind parenting brain chemistry, mothers might feel more understood and the government and Americans as a whole might see the importance of providing better support for parents. In an op-ed with the New York Times, Conaboy explains how the book should serve as a call to action, one that will overhaul clinical care, home- and community-based support, and help lawmakers in Washington to finally pass paid parental leave.

Apart from actionable policy changes, Conaboy’s basic wish is that “Perhaps this new story will help us talk, parent to parent, a bit more honestly about just how it feels to become one.”

The Mother Brain is on sale now at

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