How Pregnancy Incredibly Changes A Woman’s Brain

“Post-pregnancy brains could be considered evolutionary works of art, perfectly sculpted to better respond to their babies.”

Scientists have found that pregnancy remodels a woman’s brain for up to two years.

These changes could boost attachment to her baby and may strengthen her brain in the long run.

Brain researchers Elseline Hoekzema, Erika Barba-Mueller, and a European team at the Autonomous University of Barcelona found that pregnancy reconfigures a woman’s brain for up to two years. These changes also work to boost the attachment to her baby. 

In Nature Communications they write that these brain shifts are the result of extreme hormonal fluctuations that occur during pregnancy.

Mueller, Hoekzema, and their colleagues scanned the brains of 25 first-time mother pre and post pregnancy, searching for changes in gray matter (the tissue of the brain involved in information processing). The group was compared to women without children and also first-time fathers.

The researchers found changes in the part of the brain related to cognition and social processes among mothers but not fathers, suggesting that pregnancy, not a change in activity or lifestyle, was the cause.

Levels of attachment or hostility were then measured between mother and child, and they found that the lost over pregnancy grey matter “predicted quality of mother-to-infant attachment and the absence of hostility toward her newborn”.

The same grey matter changes frequently occurred when the mother was shown photos of her newborn.

Grey matter levels did not replenish for up to two years after pregnancy, showed follow-up sessions.

The researchers hypothesized that the brain changes are part of an adaptive process helping women to transition into motherhood: to interpret potentially threatening social behaviors, to help the mother in reading the emotions expressed by her baby, and to encourage mother-baby bonding.

Neuroscientist Liisa Galea, of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, points out that a woman’s brain can also strengthen post-birth.

For sciencenews.org, Laura Sanders writes: “Galea pointed me to some different research by her and others that indicates after this early rough spell, motherhood may actually make the brain stronger. In a maze test, first-time rat mothers that were no longer nursing their babies actually outperformed rats that had never given birth. And rats that had been pregnant multiple times outperformed non-mother rats on a different memory test, Galea says.

What’s more, motherhood may help keep the brain young.

When tested at the ripe old age of 24 months, rats that had given birth earlier in life performed better on tests of learning and memory than rats that had not given birth. Those results suggest that something about motherhood — perhaps the stew of hormones and the brain changes that follow — may actually protect the brain as it ages.”

Have you noticed changes to the way your mind functions post-birth? Please share your experiences with us in the comment section.

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