Mom Genes: Inside the New Science of Our Ancient Maternal Instinct

Gallery. Apr. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9781501192852. $28. SCI
The term maternal instinct is a common one, describing the supposedly innate quality that one either has or doesn’t have. In her latest work, Tucker (The Lion in the Living Room) examines the hard science behind maternal instinct. Meticulously researched and well-documented, Mom Genes is one part memoir (Tucker intersperses her own experiences as a white mother of four children), and one part incredibly readable popular science. It turns out that far from being born with maternal instinct, mothers instead begin to manufacture the instinct with the onset of pregnancy. Mothers are biologically different from their pre-pregnancy states and from the rest of humankind; for instance, structural changes occur in the gray matter of the brain during pregnancy. What role do hormones and genes play, for example? How do imprinted paternal genes in the placenta work to maximize maternal care? If the maternal state is universal, why is each mother so different? To answer this last question, Tucker explores the effects of differences in health care, income inequality, and racism in addition to biological influences.
VERDICT Richly entertaining, filled with humor, and deeply informative, this engaging book is recommended for mothers, potential mothers, and anyone who has ever known a mother.
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