Areas of the brain were found to reduce for up to two years after giving birth in order to allow mother to bond with baby.
Women often complain of ‘pregnancy brain’ but a new study has discovered that a woman’s gray matter reduces in certain areas in order to help bond with her baby and nothing to do with memory loss.
Researchers from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona and Leiden University looked at the brain scans of 25 first-time mothers. The brain scans were taken before becoming pregnant, a period after giving birth and again two years later. They found significant structural changes in the brain that weren’t found in women who hadn’t given birth or first-time fathers.
The part of the brain that changed was connected to social interactions and is usually involved in thoughts and feelings towards other people. It’s thought this occurs to allow the new mother to heighten awareness for the baby’s needs and potential dangers or threats as well as creating a stronger bond.
“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. “Gray matter volume loss does not necessarily represent a bad thing,” she said. “It can also represent a beneficial process of maturation or specialization.”
Different tasks were carried out and assessed using the Maternal Postnatal Attachment Scale with one showing women pictures of their own baby. The area of the brain similar to those that had reduced in gray matter, lit up but the same areas didn’t light up when they were shown pictures of other babies.
More research needs to be carried out in order to clearly assess how much gray matter loss is linked to increasing motherly bonds and mothering skills.
Details of the study were published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.