Pregnancy, as it turns out, causes women to lose their minds. Well, sort of. An incredible new study recently revealed that women’s brains change when they are pregnant. Researchers did brain scans of women who had never before been pregnant, but who were hoping to conceive. They then scanned the same women again a couple of months after birth. The findings were astounding: the women actually saw a loss in gray matter while pregnant, and these changes lasted for around two years, well into the time that their kids reached toddler age.
Amazingly, Mother Nature works in this way to make new moms more empathetic to support their new role with a baby. The Guardian reports:
The research suggests the changes could help mothers understand the needs of their newborn, and influence mother-child attachment. “Brain changes may sound somewhat intimidating, but our findings suggest that there may be an evolutionary purpose to these changes that may serve you in some way when you become a mother,” said Hoekzema.
…What’s more, the brain regions which showed a drop in grey matter volume were found to overlap with areas linked to the so-called “theory of mind network” –regions of the brain linked to the ability to put oneself in other people’s shoes and imagine how they would think or feel.
“It does make sense that a first time mother is going to have to work really hard to understand their baby’s needs,” said Dr Kirstie Whitaker, an expert in neuroimaging from Cambridge University. “They have theory of mind anyway, they are adult women who are capable of empathising with others, but this is a new stage, this is like another step up in terms of understanding how another being is seeing the world,” said Whitaker, who was not involved in the research.
It turns out that the brain cells aren’t disappearing, but rather rearranging themselves to strengthen certain connections. Apparently, the research didn’t find that the change in gray matter results in so-called “mommy brain,” but any new mom would agree that forgetfulness is as much a part of motherhood as improved empathy for the baby!