Pregnancy changes you. Duh. You knew that. But, new research shows that it might biologically effect your brain.
This ground-breaking (or at the very least, mum shaking) research, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, takes a look at how pregnancy impacts the woman’s brain. Yeah, yeah. We know, insert joke here. We’ve all heard of “pregnancy brain.” That feeling like your mind has completely turned off and suddenly seemingly simple tasks (such as remembering where your keys are in your purse, or where your purse is for that matter) are incredibly taxing.
So, the study looked at pregnant women before and after having their babies. The research team at Autonomous University of Barcelona (and lead neuroscientist Elseline Hoekzema of Leiden University) used brain scans to assess the amount of gray matter mums had and continue to have – in their post-pregnancy days.
As it turns out pregnancy does actually effect the gray matter of the mum’s brain. The scans showed that pregnancy changes the brain. Most notably, it decreases the amount of gray matter. What’s important here is exactly where the gray matter is lost. The regions where researchers found the reductions are responsible for social cognition.
Of the original women who were scanned as part of the study, 11 of them (these were women who didn’t get pregnant for a second time) received scans at two years post-partum. Twenty-five of the women got pregnant again. These women received scans soon after giving birth. After reviewing the data, the researchers found that the mums still showed the gray matter loss two years later!
Okay, so you’re thinking, “Whoa! That’s not good. Losing gray matter? That’s like losing part of your mind, right?” Well, not exactly. This study didn’t find that pregnancy makes you stupid or that it someone decreases intelligence. Instead, it kind of reshapes the brain. The social cognition areas that are affected the most help to control what we think about what’s going on in someone else’s mind.
One of the possible reasons for this brain re-shaping is that it in some way helps women be better mums. When scientists look at gray matter loss, they are able to predict how mums will score on an attachment scale. When it comes down to, we all need to think in different ways after baby is born. Maybe our pre-pregnancy brains aren’t entirely equipped to handle the demands of motherhood.
It’s possible that this re-shaping is changing the mum’s brain to better care for her child – at least, for the first two years.