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As if growing a new human being wasn’t enough to make a gal a superhero, here are four additional powers new mothers have that guarantee their status as Wonder Women.

March 18, 2015

As if growing a new human being wasn’t enough to make a gal a superhero, here are four additional powers new mothers have that guarantee their status as Wonder Women.

They can squirt milk at the sound of a baby squeak!

Hearing your baby or even just picturing your wee one’s face is often enough to trigger a new mom to lactate. Why? “We’re evolutionarily conditioned to respond to a baby’s cry, so just the sound of them causes your brain to release the milk-stimulating hormone oxytocin,” explains New York City pediatrician Dyan Hes, MD.

And this phenomenon can persist even if it’s not your own little one wailing. “I lactated until my kids were four, even though I weaned them both at a year,” recalls Dr. Hes. “Every time I walked into the hospital nursery and heard a newborn cry it triggered a letdown reaction.”

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They can recognize their baby by smell!

Ninety percent of women are able to identify their newborns by scent after spending as little as 10 minutes with them, according to a 2004 Israeli study. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective: Who wants to nurse the wrong kid? But here’s another fascinating nugget of info: A 2013 study published in Frontiers of Psychology found that the scent of a newborn—any newborn—activates the pleasure centers of a new mom’s brain.

“Moms are hardwired to respond to babies so they can support the infant’s health and growth, which means that their response to all of a baby’s sensory information—their smell, the feel of their skin, their voice—is exaggerated, even if the newborn isn’t their own,” says Diane Sanford, PhD, a psychologist in Saint Louis, Missouri, and coauthor of Life Will Never Be the Same: The Real Mom’s Postpartum Survival Guide ($16.95; amazon.com).

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They can grow bigger brains!

Women often joke that motherhood has fried their brain cells, but in reality the opposite is true: brain scans of new moms 2-4 weeks and then 3-4 months postpartum show a small but significant increase in their brain’s gray matter volume, according to a 2010 Yale-New Haven Hospital study.

Not surprisingly, the areas that show growth include the hypothalamus and amygdala, which are linked to motivation, rewards, and regulation of emotion—and the mothers who had the most positive perceptions of their babies (rating them as "beautiful," "perfect," and "special," for example) had the biggest gray matter increases.

“We know that the brain is incredibly plastic even through adulthood," Sanford says. "In this case, as women become mothers our minds respond to our external life circumstances and change in an effort to foster a mom’s attachment to her babies.”

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They can diagnose temperature with a single touch!

Remember how your mother used to rule out a fever simply by placing her hand on your forehead? Turns out mom was right. One Zambian study of moms of children ranging from a month to 16 years found that when mothers thought that their kids' bodies were normal temperature, they were correct 95% of the time. Just chalk it up to mother’s instinct.

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