Did you know that getting pregnant and having a baby legitimately changes your brain? It’s not all in your head. Well, actually I guess it kind of is. (I know, I know, I couldn’t resist)
According to Nature Neuroscience there was a study performed in Barcelona that brings to light the substantial changes that occur in a woman's brain during pregnancy. Two main things occur to a woman’s brain when she grows a baby. The first is her brain gets smaller. The second is that the brain makes itself more efficient.
According to the study, these changes prepare an expectant mother for the challenges of parenthood.
What They Did
So the scientists performing the study took a group of 25 pregnant women who were having their first baby and compared magnetic resonance images of before and after their pregnancy. They also studied the images of 19 male partners, and of a control group formed by 20 women who were not and had never been pregnant and 17 male partners. They gathered information about the participants during five years and four months.
The results of the research showed a symmetrical reduction in the volume of grey matter in the medial frontal and posterior cortex line, as well as in specific sections of, mainly, prefrontal and temporal cortex in pregnant women. "These areas correspond to a great extent with a network associated with processes involved in social cognition and self-focused processing," according to Susanna Carmona, one of the researchers.
They also tested the same women who were pregnant in the first round of testing two years later. They found that the brains of those who had not gotten pregnant since the initial study remained changed. Meaning, this change in our brains lasts at least 2 years and possibly longer.
The Shrinking Pregnant Brain
So let’s look at this change in the brain. The study showed a reduction in the gray matter of the expectant mom’s brain. A good way to think of gray matter is the part of the brain that performs tasks.
As stated above, the biggest loss of gray matter was in the front and temporal lobe regions. These areas of the brain are responsible for a variety of tasks, including social cognition. Social cognition is the ability to interact with others.
It’s no mistake that these are the areas of shrinkage in the brain. As it turns out that the loss of gray matter in these areas is actually important and helpful for new moms.
These areas are the ones that help us to understand other people’s feelings, beliefs, and nonverbal signals. These areas also help form attachments to people.
You can see how this might be helpful for new moms who have to care for babies who can’t talk to express themselves.
Losing gray matter in these areas may sound worrisome, but it’s actually good news. The researchers found that women who experienced greater gray matter loss in those areas also had greater feelings of attachment to their infants.
In addition, these women also felt fewer negative emotions toward their babies. So while these areas of the brain shrink, they also became more powerful.
How You Can Use This
While it is clear how these changes are helpful for bonding with a new baby and understanding its needs, it can actually be helpful in other parts of life as well. The usefulness of being able to better understand people’s feelings, beliefs, and nonverbal signals is not limited to dealing with babies and young children. It can help in our adult interactions as well.
As moms, we can use our unique ability to better understand our clients and co-workers. We can be more empathetic toward our spouses and we can enjoy deeper relationships with our friends.
It’s not magic though. When we become moms, we are extra attentive to our babies and children. We look for all sorts of clues to how they feel and what they are thinking. Our shrunken brain helps us better understand what we see, but we have to be looking for them in the first place.
So, if you have goals to have a better relationship with your spouse, you won’t just magically know what's going on with him. You actually have to pay attention to the verbal and non verbal signals he is giving.
The same goes with improving any relationship. As a mom, you may be able to better interpret and understand what other people are thinking, but you have to notice what’s happening first.
So, at the end of the day, mom brain is real, but not in the way we might think. We might feel like we are becoming more forgetful but we also have more on our plate. We are however becoming more in tune with others and we can use this to advantage in achieving goals and life in general.