Childbirth Changes Moms' Brains

Cristen Conger

This is your brain on baby. (© 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation)

Having a baby bring about a host of changes in new moms' lives -- and their brains. A recent neuroimaging study suggests that women experience gray matter growth in certain brain regions during the first few months of motherhood. The added gray matter volume was concentrated in the prefrontal cortex, parietal lobes and midbrain areas that are associated with maternal care. Mothers who openly doted on their babies the most showed the greatest amount of gray matter growth, indicating that the neurological adjustment is the body's way of prepping women to be good mothers. Understanding these variations in maternal brain plasticity may also help doctors treat post-partum depression more effectively.

This motherhood brain boost contradicts old health myths claiming that pregnancy diminishes women's cognitive functions. Many pregnant women report poorer short-term memory forgetfulness, which is sometimes referred to as "baby brain" or "placenta brain". An Australian study published earlier this year tracked women's memory and recall speeds before, during and after pregnancy and found no cognitive gaps across the 8-year time span. The maternal brain scans, published in Behavioral Neuroscience, further debunk the "baby brain" theory. While new moms' brains might feel somewhat scrambled with post-partum hormones at play, it certainly isn't because babies take a negative toll on the brain. Having a child is apparently such a huge undertaking that it requires a brain upgrade of sorts.

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