Becoming a mum can lay down a whole lot of stress on you.
How do the changes in brain structure help boost a mother’s ability to care for her child? Well… here’s an answer.
A study, based on brains scans, found that the volume of grey matter in certain regions of the brain decreased in women who had been pregnant. “These changes were remarkably consistent,” said Elseline Hoekzema, co-author of the research from Leiden University. “So, consistent that a computer algorithm could automatically identify which of the women in our sample had been pregnant between the sessions and which (had) not.”
“Brain changes may sound somewhat intimidating, but our findings suggest that there may be an evolutionary purpose to these changes that may serve you in some way when you become a mother,” said Hoekzema.
In the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers from the Netherlands and Spain describe how they used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare the brain structure of 25 first-time mothers before and shortly after pregnancy. The scans were also compared with those of 20 women who had not become pregnant, 19 first-time fathers and 17 men without children.
The results reveal that the new mothers experienced a decrease in the volume of grey matter — thought by the authors to imply a fine-tuning of connections — in regions of the brain involved in social processes, with the majority of the changes found to last at least two years after giving. “It is important to stress that our findings do not suggest any link to changes in general cognitive abilities or intelligence,” asserted Hoekezema, adding, “These findings provide some of the first evidence that these brain changes may in some way help a mother to care for her infant.”
It has also been reiterated by the researchers that the findings do not necessarily mean that pregnant women are shedding brain cells.