There is still a lot we do not know about the human brain. From how much of it we actually use to the way different sensations affect it, much remains a mystery. Recent studies have focused on pregnancy in women and its effect on the human brain. People always say how childbirth and becoming a parent changes your life from the core. What people do not say, probably because they do not know this, is that a pregnancy can actually rewire a woman’s brain. Those rewirings do not have to last forever, but a few scans of women’s brains showed significant changes in the parts of the brain that handle social information. Scientists also noticed that these changes usually last for up to two years. They speculate that these changes in the brain are preparing the new mom for the baby’s birth. This helps form a strong bond between the newborn and the mother.
Changes like this are not uncommon. One of the first changes similar to this one occurs during puberty. Both puberty and pregnancy are specific in the way that both of them are centered around large-scale hormonal changes within the body. Puberty has been proven to reorganize adolescent brains significantly during puberty.
During a study where the scientists scanned 25 moms and their brains before and after pregnancy, they discovered that gray matter was reduced in some areas. For those that do not know gray matter is made up of uninsulated neurons and cells that serve as support. On the other hand, first-time fathers, men, and women who never had children did not have the same changes inside their brains.
The regions of the brain that are most affected by pregnancy are the ones that handle how we understand others, how we interpret their desires and emotions, as well as their motivations.
To people on the outside looking in, the reduction in the gray matter might seem like a bad thing, but scientists have a different theory. They think that the brain is actually being fine-tuned for the new functions it is getting ready to perform. The brain is becoming more efficient at performing everyday tasks related to raising a child.
Researchers further speculate that the new pathways also help the mother form a tighter bond with her newborn child. This latter helps the baby develop into a healthy, functioning adult.
A test was performed to see just how extensive those changes were. The mothers were shown pictures of their newborn babies. The areas of the brain that experienced the most change started lighting up as soon as the women saw their babies. The same women were tested two years later and in all of them the changes were still there, and their reactions triggered the same areas of the brain as before. At this point, the scientists are unsure whether the changes are permanent but it is highly likely they are. More time needs to pass in order for scientists to be sure.
The term “pregnancy brain” has been making the rounds for the longest time now. Women claim they are becoming forgetful and less mentally sharp. But during the tests, women showed no signs of this. The only issue is that there were no baseline tests performed, so this still can be true.
There are still many unknowns regarding the changes in the brain that occur during pregnancy. Researchers are unsure whether these same changes happen during the second or third pregnancies. Are there any negative long-term effects on the brain? Can this information be used to prevent postpartum depression? All these questions still need to be answered, so until then, we need to patiently wait for new data.