When a woman becomes a mother, she changes. No matter who the woman is, or how much of an individual she is, pregnancy and motherhood have a way of altering the way you think, feel and behave.
Not only is this a feeling that all first-time moms get, but it’s actually been scientifically proven that a woman’s brain changes when she becomes a mother. Nature does a lot to ensure the bonding process between mother and child takes place, and changing the makeup of your brain is just one of those things. Forget morning sickness and weight gain, this is the really trippy stuff.
Helps moms take care of their babies. There might be some more scientific explanation behind the maternal instinct after all. So far, the working theory for why these changes in the brains of first-time mothers occur is that it helps them take care of their child. The brain becomes altered by pregnancy so that it can better deal with a child.
Fosters bonding. Not only does the rewiring of a pregnant woman’s brain help her better take care of her new baby, but researchers also think it enhances the bonding experience between mother and child. Essentially, your body is doing all it can to make sure that your child grows up happy and healthy.
The study. The study that found that pregnancy re-wires the brains of first-time mothers was authored by researcher Elseline Hoekzema and her colleagues at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. They published their full report in Nature Neuroscience just days ago. Their findings are the first of their kind.
Brain scans. In order to figure out if and how pregnancy alters a woman’s brain, the researchers compared the MRI scans of 25 women. They scanned each woman once before their first pregnancy and again after they became pregnant. What they found was incredible.
Grey matter. The researchers found that across the board, the brains of pregnant women showed reduced grey matter. At first this could sound like it’s a bad thing. But no, they’re not getting dumber. Actually, they think that this happens in order to clear neurological pathways so that they can have greater responses in certain areas of the brain.
Which emotions are effected. The scientists noted that the regions of the brain that changed in first-time mothers were the ones that dealt with particular emotional process, such as understanding the thoughts, emotions, desires, and motivations of others. They think that these areas of the brain are enhanced by pregnancy so that you can be a better mom.
How long these changes last. The researchers who conducted the study still don’t know if these brain changes are permanent or not. All they can say with certainty is that the changes last for at least two years after pregnancy, because that’s when they followed up with their subjects and found the same brains can results.
First-time mothers. As of right now, these findings only apply to first-time mothers, as they were the primary focus of the study. Scientists now know how the brain rewires itself when you first become pregnant, but as for mothers who have multiple children, the findings are not yet in.
Same results not found in any other participants. This change in brain matter was only found in first-time mothers. The researchers also studied the brains of first-time fathers and men and women who’ve never had children before. No one experienced this brain re-wiring except for the first-time moms.
Baby pictures. The researchers followed up with these women after they gave birth to see if the brain changes still stuck. What they also did was show each woman pictures of her own baby while scanning her brain. What they found was that the areas that lit up the screen as active during this activity were the same ones that were first affected during the pregnancy, essentially confirming their theories.
What happens with the next child? Scientists don’t yet know exactly how long these brain changes last or if subsequent children affect the mother even more. Perhaps it only happens during the first-pregnancy and the brain remains that way for the rest of a woman’s life. They have yet to find out.
What about during pregnancy? As for what the mothers themselves feel during pregnancy, the researchers say it is very common to hear testimonies of mental fog. When women are pregnant, they often report not feeling as mentally sharp. This might be because their brains are changing.
No proof yet. There is no scientific evidence right now that gives proof or reason to this reported “mental fog”. The researchers for this experiment only scanned the brains of women before and after pregnancy, not during. Those results will have to wait for another study.
Researchers still have more questions. Being that this is the first study of its kind, it is still very fundamental. The researchers, excited by their findings, want to push forward and learn more about how pregnancy and motherhood affects the brain. They will keep following up with these same participants in the years to come.
Mothers feel changed. Any woman who has had a baby before can attest to how it changes them. Even the lead author of the study can. She happened to be pregnant with her first child during the study and is now pregnant with her second. In an interview with Popular Science she said, “Having actually experienced this once, I indeed have the impression that pregnancy and motherhood has changed me, but in subtle ways. I am still me, but a bit of a different version.”