A research has shown that pregnancy alters the structure of women’s brain.
The research was carried out by a team from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, in Spain led by Elseline Hoekzema .
Hoekzema and her colleagues carried out a detailed brain scans on 65 female volunteers, none of whom had been pregnant before but hoped to get pregnant, and another 20 who had no such desire.
The scans were repeated about 15 months later, when 25 out of their volunteers had given birth to babies. The scans showed substantial decrease in the volume of grey matter in the brains of new mothers on comparison.
Grey matter contains main bodies of nerve cells and includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control, and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, emotions, memory, speech, decision-making, and self-control.
The research was published in Nature Neuroscience reveals that the effect was reliable enough that it could be used by itself to predict, with perfect accuracy, which of the women had been pregnant and which had not.
It was found out that the results were also persistent considering the fact that the researchers retested the mothers two years later, most of the alterations were still present.
Suspecting that something in the biological process of pregnancy was causing the changes, the researchers compared the women’s brains with those of men; fathers and those without children.
The men’s brains, however, like those of the childless women, showed no such pattern of changes.
Notably, the results fit with studies on animals. Rats that have had pups, for instance, show notable and lasting changes in brain structure. They also seemed less anxious, are better able to cope with stress. Their memory was also sharper than their puppies’ contemporaries.
Hoekzema and her colleagues also noted that most of the more permanent reductions in grey matter happened across different parts of the brain that, in other experiments, have been found to be related with the processing of social information, and with reasoning about other people’s states of mind.
The research team administered a standard psychological test designed to measure how attached those women had become to their babies after the women in the study had given birth,
The ones with the greatest reductions in grey matter volume were, on the whole, the most strongly bonded.