A study published this Monday shows how the brain of mothers after the birth presents a number of changes that can last up to two years. Pregnancy can produce increased sizes of several brain structures and modifications in areas related to social cognition associated with the loss of gray matter, the study shows.

The publication explains how every pregnancy process produces a series of  “radical hormone surges and biological adaptations.” The Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona was in charge of the study, and over 30 women were involved in the investigation. The analysis lasted five years, and the group was formed by women in their 30’s that were looking to get pregnant. The women’s brains were scanned before the conception, during the pregnancy, and after the birth.

Pregnancy causes changes in the brain of the woman that may prepare her for the task of raising a child. Image Credit: Buzzle

According to the results, the first undeniable change in the brain was the loss of gray matter volume, as it was reported in all cases. This loss was registered in areas of the brain related to a process that scientists call social condition or theory of mind. This process is the one responsible for recording and analyzing other people’s perception of needs and social life in general.

Which is the meaning of these results?

According to Paul Thompson, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California that didn’t participate in the research, there are three possible answers to that question. The first possibility is that the loss of gray matter is not beneficial in any way and even could produce long-term cognition problems.

The second possibility is that this brain change is “neutral” as can be a natural reaction of the body to the stress and lack of sleep the mother can live through the pregnancy. The third option is that this body reaction is a preparation from the mother’s body to what will come with the birth of the child. Thompson explained that adaptation might be related to a brain’s choice oriented to the enhancing of other cognitive areas related to nurture, vigilance, and even teaching.

The team leader and researcher from the Leiden University in the Netherlands Elseline Hoekzema explained that this series of changes presented in the mother’s brain might be related to an improvement of the mother concerning the ability to identify the needs of the child, social threats and the promotion of bonding with the newborn.

“We certainly don’t want to put a message out there on the lines of pregnancy makes you lose your brain, as we don’t believe this is the case. Gray matter volume loss does not necessarily represent a bad thing. It can also represent a beneficial process of maturation or specialization,” Hoekzema said when presenting the study this Monday.

Dr. Ronald E. Dahl, director of the Institute of Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley, stated that this new approach that the team of researchers gave to the results of the investigation is fascinating and could explain the effects of pregnancy on the human brain perfectly.

Source: The Washington Post