BookmarkBookmarkTickBookmarkAddCheckBoxFilledCheckBoxCircleBumpCheckedFilledMedical

Pregnancy Changes the Brain to Make You a Better Mom

save article
profile picture of Anisa Arsenault
By Anisa Arsenault, Associate Editor
Updated January 16, 2018
Pregnant woman sitting against partner looking at tablet
Image: iStock

Find yourself a little more emotional or forgetful now that you’re a mom or mom-to-be? Research is closer than ever to explaining why: Pregnancy is literally destroying gray matter in your brain.

Don’t panic! According to a study published in Nature Neuroscience, pregnancy changes the size of areas of the brain responsible for social cognition which allow you to perceive other people’s feelings. This involves a loss of gray matter in several areas of the cerebral cortex, which study authors say isn’t detrimental.

“We certainly don’t want to put a message out there [along] the lines of ‘pregnancy makes you lose your brain,’ as we don’t believe this is the case,” lead researcher Elseline Hoekzema tells The New York Times. “Gray matter volume loss does not necessarily represent a bad thing. It can also represent a beneficial process of maturation or specialization.”

An example of that specialization? “A mother’s ability to recognize the needs of her infant, to recognize social threats or to promote mother-infant bonding,” she says. The study indicates enhanced emotion and facial recognition are part of this specialization as well.

Essentially, hormones may be causing your brain to pare down on certain areas to make those associated with mothering more efficient. The five-year study, conducted by Spain’s Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, had pretty clear results. The brains of 25 women in their 30s were scanned before pregnancy and a few months after birth, and compared against 20 women who had never been pregnant. Only the mothers demonstrated a loss of gray matter—and that loss was so significant that a scan alone could differentiate the moms from the non-moms.

As you might expect, that paring down comes at a temporary cost. Additional research from Deakin University in Australia shows that pregnant women in their third trimesters show poorer cognitive functioning and memory. But only to a certain extent; researchers say the only person who is likely to notice your memory lapses is you.

Followup brain scans show that gray matter changes remained for at least two years after delivery, but the hippocampus—the area of the brain responsible for memory—regained volume, possibly because of all the new skills moms acquire.

While more research is needed, one thing is clear: Having a baby definitely changes you. But you already knew that.

H/T The New York Times

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

save article
Article removed.
Name added. View Your List
ADVERTISEMENT

Next on Your Reading List

pregnant woman holding a hot cup of tea
How to Relieve a Sore Throat in Pregnancy
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
toilet paper holder on red background
Why You Might Have Blood in Your Stool While Pregnant
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
pregnant woman holding ultrasound photo over belly
How Much Does the Uterus Grow in Pregnancy?
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
ADVERTISEMENT
pregnant woman sitting on couch with blanket
Why You Might Be Feeling Cold in Pregnancy
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
smiling pregnant woman feeling belly while sitting on couch at home
7 Ways to Get Baby to Move in Utero
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
pregnant woman drinking a glass of water
Why You Might Have a Dry Mouth in Pregnancy
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
pregnant woman with round ligament pain
What Round Ligament Pain Feels Like—and How to Find Relief
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
ADVERTISEMENT
pregnant woman with hip pain sleeping with pregnancy pillow
What to Do About Hip Pain During Pregnancy
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
tired pregnant woman napping on the couch
Pregnancy Fatigue: Why You're Exhausted—and What to Do About It
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
close up of pregnant woman with hands on lower back
How to Relieve Back Pain in Pregnancy
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
ADVERTISEMENT
pregnant woman wearing a bikini on the beach
What’s the Deal With So-Called ‘Pregnancy Glow?’
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
pensive pregnant woman looking down by sunny window
How to Treat (and Prevent) a Yeast Infection During Pregnancy
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
close up of pregnant belly, side view
How Your Vaginal Discharge Can Change During Pregnancy
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
ADVERTISEMENT
doctor checking woman's eyes with flashlight
Why You Might Experience Some Blurry Vision in Pregnancy
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
pregnant woman resting in bed
What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome in Pregnancy?
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
pregnant woman looking down and holding belly at home
When Do You Start Showing in Pregnancy?
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
woman reading pregnancy test result
Is It Possible to Have No Pregnancy Symptoms?
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
ADVERTISEMENT
woman opening toilet lid
What Causes Cloudy Urine in Pregnancy?
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
pregnant woman experiencing a hot flash while working at desk
Are Hot Flashes Normal During Pregnancy?
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
pregnant woman drinking water while sitting on couch at home
How to Find Relief for Heartburn and Indigestion During Pregnancy
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
ADVERTISEMENT
Article removed.