Pregnancy can have so many impacts on the mother’s life, including her brain. Pregnancy selectively shrinks gray matter to make a mom’s brain more responsive to her baby and based on the report in Nature Neuroscience, it can last for years.
Lissa Galea, the neuroscientist of the University of British Columbia in Vacounver stated that several studies, including this one suggested that a women’s reproductive history can have long-lasting, possibly permanent changes to her brain health.
For this study, the participants consist of 25 women who wanted to get pregnant with their first child. A detailed anatomy scans were performed on them, before they got pregnant and two months after they gave birth. Pregnancy has so much impact to the point where researchers could predict whether woman had been pregnant based on the changes of their brain.
The results had shown that a women who had carried and given birth had less gray matter in certain regions of their brains compared to 20 women who had not been pregnant, 19 first-time fathers and 17 childless men. These changes will still remain two years after pregnancy.
A shrinking brain might appear as something bad however, “reductions in gray matter are not necessarily a bad thing.” Elseline Hoekzema, the co-author of the study of the study, neuroscientist at Leiden University, Netherlands stated. This is because the same thing will occur during adolescence as it is essential for a normal cognitive and emotional development. “Following those important teenage years, pregnancy could be thought as a second stage of brain maturing.” She added.
More research has been conducted and they had suggested that pregnancy sculpts the mother’s brain in a very specific way to make women more responsive to their helpless infants. The region that shrunk the most were parts of the frontal and temporal corticles as well as the midline, these regions are thought to be a part of taking other people’s mental perspectives. Thus, the shrinkage could occur with the purpose to help the mother to be a better care for the baby. The brain regions that changed the most also showed large responses to the pictures of their infants and even on questionnaires on their attachment to their baby, the scores for the women whose brains changed the most are higher.
First-time fathers appears to not have any changes on their brain, thus the effects on the mother’s brain is suggested not to be the cause by the seismic social upheaval of becoming a parent. Instead, these changes were caused by pregnancy hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. “Pregnancy is a time of exposure to massive amounts of hormones that get into their brain.” said John Russell, neuroendocrinologist of University of Edinburgh. However, he also points out that when the changes occur is still unsure as they only studied the brains before and after pregnancy but not during pregnancy. The extreme hormonal drop that comes during birth may also reshape the brain.