Children make you lose your mind, at least that's what a first-of-its-kind study says. But worry not, mothers-to-be, because according to researchers, that's probably good thing!
The study — published in Nature Neuroscience — explains that while we've known the radical hormone changes and biological adaptations that come with bearing a child, psychological changes have remained unknown, perhaps until now. The prospective study, including both first-time mothers and fathers, shows that pregnancy effected changes in brain structure, specifically in loss of gray matter (GM) in regions responsible for social cognition. [Both moms and dads' brains were scanned before and after conceiving and giving birth.] The changes, authors explain, were 'highly consistent' in the females who have undergone pregnancy. What's more, researchers found that the gray matter volume changes correlated with maternal attachment postpartum, which researchers say could be an adaptive process that serves the transition into motherhood. These changes in brain structure lasted well into the toddler years of the child. In the male brains, no such changes were detected.
The study was small: 25 Spanish women (who hoped to become pregnant) over a period of five years. An additional 20 women who had never been pregnant were in the control group. Two dozen men (fathers and non-fathers) also participated. During the study, only the pregnant women showed decrease in gray matter and thinning of the cortex in the parts of the brain responsible for social cognition.
Gray matter research
Though the area needs more research, few prior studies on gray matter have also made such connections. One study showed that gray matter tends to decrease in puberty and adolescence, in the ares of the brain responsible for fine-tuning social, emotional, and cognitive understanding — an important trio in surviving the teenage years.
Loss of gray matter sounds alarming, but the researchers say it isn't so. In fact, in terms of motherhood, they say it could mean the mother has — at least psychologically — prepared for the caring of the child. Pregnancy, they explain, could help a mother become a specialist in the field of child caring, and more in tune with the infant's needs. And perhaps most intriguing is that the findings provide more evidence against the long-standing myth of 'pregnancy brain.' You may not be losing your mind, after all.