Giving birth is one of the most astounding miracles of humans and animals alike. However, pregnancy doesn’t change only your body. A new study reveals that this phenomenon has a greater impact on new mothers than previously thought. While becoming a mother supposes changing the body to adopt physical conditions proper for the child’s development, it also affects the brain structure.
Scientists have recently compared two different types of brain scans. They first scanned the brain activity of pregnant women, and they recreated the procedure after they gave birth. There was a number of 11 differences between the before and after pregnancy scans.
One of the study authors, Elseline Hoekzema from the Leiden University in Netherlands, believes that these brain structure changes are related to a mother’s evolutionary purpose. Once a woman becomes a mother, her brain develops in such a way that she becomes ready to protect and nurture her newborn. This way, the new mother understands better the needs of the baby.
There were 25 Spanish women who participated in this study together with other 20 women who weren’t pregnant. Apart from the MRI scans, they also had to perform some memory tests. The differences between the two groups made it possible to observe the brain structure changes.
The changes were consistent among the pregnant women. Moreover, the brain alterations were still visible after two years from their birth. The study also made sure that only the new mothers are developing such processes. The fathers of the newborns were also tested, and the results concluded that their brain structure remains the same.
All the 11 changes are related to a reduction of brain’s gray matter. This is not a negative outcome of a woman becoming a mother. On the contrary, the changes in brain structure are preparing the woman to become a caring and protective parent. The affected brain areas seem to be related to the empathic capacity of a person. When new mothers were given the picture of their newborn, these regions became more active than others. The picture of an unknown baby was not able to reproduce the same effect. This means that pregnancy changed the brain of a mother so that she recognizes the newborn as her own. Moreover, she becomes more empathic towards her child than with any other person.
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