We've already confirmed, to your relief, that baby brain is a real thing — it's your body's way of preparing you to bond with your child. But new research is proving that it could actually be making you smarter.
Adam Franssen, PhD, a neurobiologist at Longwood University, sat down for a Reddit AMA (Ask me Anything) session to explain the neurological changes that occur during and because of motherhood. Cell bodies in neurons are growing, dendrites are growing, and new connections are being made, all in the name of restructuring your brain to become mom. His comparison? Highway construction.
"You might think of this restructuring as construction on a highway – workers are out there expanding existing lanes, adding new lanes, improving on/off ramps, etc. Once construction is complete, the road is great, but during construction…ugh; congestion, delays, detours!"
To conduct his research, Franssen studied the brains of pregnant rats, along with the behavior of rat mothers. He's concluded that changes in the brain also result in an increased attentiveness to offspring and improved memory.
Franssen explains that you can see the effect of these changes, and the necessity of these changes, in mothers at the grocery store:
"Next time you go, just people watch for a few minutes and compare the moms and non-moms. The moms are machines – they head directly to the appropriate aisle, grab exactly what they need, and move to the next, all while carrying one child, pushing another, and making an appointment for the dentist. The non-moms are cruising...checking food labels, debating over the type of cheese they’d like, etc. There’s no pressure on them to get out the door whereas moms are either on the babysitter clock or racing the inevitable child meltdown. We’re finding that the brains of moms are prepping for just such an occasion during pregnancy."
Interestingly, the number of pregnancies you experience doesn't influence the severity of changes made to your brain.
This topic all hit pretty close to home for Franssen, whose wife Catherine (who also studies the prenatal brain), is pregnant.
You can check out the rest of the AMA here.