Image of Alessandra Ambrosio by Boo George
We’re all aware of the permanent physical changes pregnancy can have on a woman’s body, but ever thought about the changes it could have on the brain?
A study published in the Nature Neuroscience has found that when a woman is pregnant the size and structure of her brain changes, enabling her to bond with her baby and prepare for the harsh demands of motherhood.
Researchers from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and Leiden University looked at the brain scans of 25 women before they became pregnant, after giving birth and then two years later to see how their brains changed. For comparison, 20 women who had never been pregnant were also scanned. The findings were truly fascinating.
They found only the pregnant women showed grey matter loss, thinning and changes in the areas of the brain involved in perceiving the feelings and perspectives of others. Researchers interpret these changes as a critical way for a woman to bond with their baby.
“We certainly don’t want to put a message out there on the lines of ‘pregnancy makes you lose your brain,’ as we don’t believe this is the case,” said Elseline Hoekzema, a researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who led the study in Barcelona.
“Grey matter volume loss does not necessarily represent a bad thing,” she said. “It can also represent a beneficial process of maturation or specialisation.”
Pregnancy, she outlined, may help a woman’s brain specialise in “a mother’s ability to recognise the needs of her infant, to recognise social threats or to promote mother-infant bonding.”
So baby brain is a real thing, after all.
Story by Stephanie Russo