Pregnancy is a period of dramatic change for all expectant mothers. Bellies begin to grow, hormones are surging, ankles are getting swollen, back pain is becoming a thing. The biggest changes women in this category experience, a lot of which can be seen with the naked eyes, are very predictable.
Even the changes that are not visible to the naked eyes are fast becoming more evident, thanks to the development of new technologies and research.
An article published six months by the nature neuroscience shed some light on a very substantial change that occurs in the brains of pregnant women. This change is that of the brain of these women shrinking to become smaller and also making itself a lot more efficient.
According to the study this change in brain size prepares the expectant mother for the job of parenthood. The first set of researchers to measure the brains of women to see how they change during pregnancy ( using computer imaging) are those from universities in Spain and the Netherlands.
Scientists have known for a long time how pregnancy changes the brains of mother rodents, but it has never been clear to them what happens to the brains of pregnant humans.
In this research some critical ways in which pregnancy changes a woman’s brain was revealed.
Changes in the brain
in the study a reduction in the grey matter of the participants’ brain was shown. The easiest way to think of grey matter is as the part of the human brain that performs tasks.
The largest loss of grey matter was observed in the front and temporal lobe regions of the brain. These two parts of the brain are responsible for a lot of tasks, and one of those is social cognition that is a person’s ability to interact with other people.
The loss of grey matter usually occurs in specific areas of the pregnant woman’s brain. These are the areas that help a person to understand other people’s beliefs feelings and nonverbal signals. This area also controls attachments to other human beings.
All of this is enough to get a person worried. However, losing grey matter in this area may not be all that bad. It was discovered during the research that females who experienced greater loss of grey matter in those areas were greatly attached to their infants.
More amazing is the fact that these women felt fewer and almost no negative emotions towards their babies.
What this means is that while areas of the brain shrink, they also become more powerful. What this brain shrinkage could mean for new mothers is that they are being prepared to better interpret the language of their newborns including their various sounds and cries.
This brain changes can also help new mothers detect threats and make them more proactive when it comes to protecting their babies and themselves. Finally, these changes are lovely because they open up the new mother to a stronger and deeper bond with other people especially the new member of their family.
Dads do not get affected
The study examined the brains of 25 women before they got pregnant and also examined them three weeks to two months after they had their first babies.
The brains of 19 first-time fathers were also studied during the research. The reason the brains of fathers was also examined is that most times, certain things that affect pregnant women may also affect the husbands (excluding the physical changes). But in this case, it was discovered that the change in brain structure only occurred in the women.
To get a better understanding of the impact of parenthood and pregnancy on the brain, the researchers also studied 17 men who didn’t have children and 20 women who had never been pregnant. A study was also carried out to compare the brains of women who conceived naturally and those who conceived through in vitro fertilisation. Similar changes were observed in the brains of the two sets of women.
Your memory isn’t lost
It is normal for new mothers to report experiences of frequent forgetfulness or inability to recall occurrences that happened before or after childbirth. This temporary memory loss induced by pregnancy which women sometimes call “baby brain” was not reflected at all in the research findings.
changes have staying power
The researchers were curious about how long these brain reshape might last, so they requested that the mother’s return for a final scan two years after the birth of their babies.
From the original 25 mothers, a total of 11 of them had not had a second child or were not pregnant with a second one at the time they return for a scan. What was during the last scanning was that there was absolutely no difference in the brain size of the mothers even after two years.
the brain baby connection
Instead of getting frightened by the thought of a shrinking brain, it is best that you think of the brain as reducing itself in size to become more efficient. There is a clear difference between a reduction in grey matter and the shrinking of someone’s brain so once you understand that it is impossible for the brain itself to shrink, it is not impossible for grey matter to reduce.
It is safe to eat as a type of spring cleaning this shrinkage in the amount of grey matter makes things more organised, coherent, and streamlined to prepare mothers for the urgency and complexity of childcare.
If neurones are closer together or organised enough to disregard irrelevant synapses and preserve the vital ones, or otherwise can reliably rapidly and effectively process critical information it becomes easier to imagine why this might make some sense and also help the brain of the new mother respond to the needs of her child.
So when a lot of new mothers have the feeling that their brains do not function as effectively as it used to before they had children, we can easily explain to them that their brains are even more active now than then.
The reduction in the grey matter does not mean there will be any form of memory loss in a new mother. She would remember everything before and after the birth of her child. So those mothers who complain of a temporary memory loss may be dealing with something completely different from this.
Driving past the dry cleaners or forgetting to pick up diapers could be as a result of stress induced by the responsibilities of parents. Meaning it is entirely rational to be forgetful at this point. This just goes to show how amazing the body of a woman is and why they need all the support they can get during pregnancy and after childbirth.
Have you experienced any loss of memory or feel like you have an opinion or suggestion that will be useful? Please do not hesitate to leave a comment in the comment section provided below.