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Mothers are more Responsive to Babies than Fathers are, Study Finds

Update Date: Nov 03, 2014 11:15 AM EST

Mothers, not fathers, are more likely to engage newborn infants, a new study found. According to researchers who set out to compare how moms and dads interacted with their infants, mothers tended to communicate and use eye contact with their babies more frequently than fathers.

For this study, the team headed by Dr. Betty Vohr recruited 33 newborns. The newborns wore a small recording device called LENA to catch the interactions that occurred when the babies were born and throughout their hospital stay. Two other recording sessions occurred at home when the babies were 44-weeks-old and seven-months-old. Overall, more than 3,000 hours of data were collected.

"It seems to me that adults talking to children is absolutely the most cost effective intervention a family could do to improve children's language," said Dr. Vohr, who is a professor of pediatrics at Alpert Medical School at Brown University, reported by TIME.

The researchers found that in 88 to 94 percent of the time, mothers responded to their infants when they made any kind of noises whereas fathers only responded 27 to 33 percent of the time. Mothers were also more likely to make eye contact with their infants, which can encourage the babies to be more responsive.

The researchers reasoned that this discrepancy between the parents could explain why children are more likely to respond to women's voices as opposed to men's voices. Dr. Vohr added that children could be more drawn to female voices because mothers are more likely than men to use a higher pitched voice.

When the team examined the gender factor, they were surprised to find that the sex of the baby affected how often the parents' responded. Mothers were more responsive to daughters than sons whereas fathers were more responsive to sons as opposed to daughters.

"We're not certain why that is, but the important thing here is knowing that of critical importance in early language development is the need to encourage both parents," Dr. Vohr said. "The more we learn about it, the more we can inform parents of the power they have in just talking and interacting with their infants to improve the long term outcomes for their child and their school readiness."

The study was published in the journal, Pediatrics.

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