Pregnancy brain is real (and healthy for your baby), science proves
Posted February 10
Mom’s expect their body to change during pregnancy, but they don’t anticipate their brain changing.
European researchers found that pregnancy alters women’s brain structure for up to two years post-pregnancy. This first-of-its-kind research discovered a substantial reduction in the volume of gray matter in new mothers’ brains.
After scanning the research subjects, the computers were able to pick out which women had been pregnant just by analyzing their brain images. So, good news! You aren’t just losing your mind when becoming a mom. Even though you accidentally put the milk in the cupboard instead of the fridge, science says it’s normal.
Here’s what happens
Changes in the brain's gray matter occur in areas that help us express thoughts and feelings when interacting with other people. Elseline Hoekzema, an author of the published study in Nature Neuroscience, said the gray matter change represents a “fine-tuning” effect to make the neural networks more efficient.
“Loss of volume does not necessarily translate to loss of function,” said Hoekzema. “Sometimes less is more.”
Women experience more extreme hormone surges of estrogen in a nine month period then they experience in their whole life — hence the physical and physiological changes to the body. Mommy’s body and brain are preparing and “fine-tuning” for their little baby to come.
Your brain is changing to help you and your baby. Researchers think the change that occur in a pregnant woman’s brain helped recognize her child’s needs. It also allows women to forget the pain of pregnancy and birthing.
The “fine-tuning” strengthens a mother’s awareness of potential threats to their baby's’ safety, allowing a stronger attachment and bond with the baby. No wonder mothers have such unconditional love for their children.
Although the pain of giving birth or the swollen ankles from pregnancy will not be completely forgotten, the brain changes to help women not remember it all so vividly. Baby hunger sets in and next thing you know, baby number two is on the way.
Along with the gray matter brain structure study, mothers were also shown pictures of their children and other children so researchers could track the brain's reaction during this activity.
Mothers’ brains lit up in similar areas where the gray matter change had occurred when they saw pictures of their own baby. It did not light up when other babies were shown. The reactions were the same in women who had conceived naturally or with fertility treatments.
According to the study, the more pronounced the brain change during pregnancy is, the higher resulting score in a mother’s emotional attachment to their baby and enhanced maternal instincts.
“Pregnancy is part of many women’s healthy lifestyle, and it makes sense that it would confer benefits,” said Dr. Kim Yonkers, a professor at Yale School of Medicine who was involved in the new study.
Next time pregnancy brain kicks in, just remember that it's for your child's health and your ability to become a better mother...and just have your husband go get another gallon on milk to replace the one that you put in the cupboard.
Kristina Tieken is a publics relations specialist with a love for the fine arts, food and exercise. She enjoys spending time with her husband and family.