Previous investigations of parents’ abilities to recognize the cries of their own babies have identified substantial and significant sex differences, with mothers showing greater correct recognition rates than fathers. Such sex differences in parenting abilities are common in non-human mammals and usually attributed to differential evolutionary pressures on male and female parental investment. However, in humans the traditional concept of ‘maternal instinct’ has received little empirical support and is incongruous given our evolutionary past as cooperative breeders. Here we use a controlled experimental design to show that both fathers and mothers can reliably and equally recognize their own baby from their cries, and that the only crucial factor affecting this ability is the amount of time spent by the parent with their own baby. These results highlight the importance of exposure and learning in the development of this ability, which may rely on shared auditory and cognitive abilities rather than sex-specific innate predispositions.