How Motherhood Affects Our Brains
Read about how motherhood can actually make us clever!
We all know our bodies go through big changes during pregnancy and after childbirth. Often, we focus on the negatives — the flabby bits, the stretch marks, the not-so-perky-anymore breasts… the list goes on and on.
But did you know that motherhood also has an impact on a very important organ in our bodies — the brain?
We’re talking about how motherhood affects our brains in a positive way (and it’s all been scientifically proven, as you will find out in this article)!
A news story reported by NBC National correspondent Kate Snow recently revealed exactly what researchers are uncovering about how motherhood changes us — especially our brains!
As a woman becomes a mum, a wonderful cocktail of hormones are made in her brain, which actually helps her bond with and wants to protect, love and cherish her little one like no one else on earth can.
Two of these hormones are oxytocin and prolactin.
Also known as the love hormone, hug hormone, cuddle chemical, moral molecule and bliss hormone! You get the idea, right?
This hormone is made in the hypothalamus (located in the brain) and is secreted by the pituitary gland, also located in the brain.
What does the ‘love hormone’ do?
- During labour, it makes the muscles of the uterus contract.
- It causes mums to be more caring and eager to please.
- Oxytocin even causes mums to recognise her baby’s unique scent and to prefer her own baby’s scent above all others!
- It stimulates milk ‘letdown’ during nursing.
- Oxytocin can actually reorganise nerve junctions in certain parts of a mum’s brain, “hardwiring” her maternal behaviours.
- It helps mums understand non-verbal cues more easily.
Also known as the ‘milk hormone’, prolactin is produced by the pituitary gland. In mums, prolactin is released in response to her baby suckling, which promotes milk production and other amazing maternal behaviours.
What does the ‘milk hormone’ do?
- It relaxes mums and, in the early months, may cause fatigue during breastfeeding which enforces mums to rest.
- Prolactin reduces mum’s libido, which in turn has an impact on sexual activity, meaning mum’s focus is entirely on her new baby with no other ‘distractions’!
According to the NBC report, it’s not just prolactin and oxytocin that are released in a new mum’s body — other hormones known as ‘opioids’ (pleasure hormones) are also released.
Among the many things opioids do, when it comes to new mums, they help promote contact between mum and bub, and also increase mum’s feelings of elation.
How motherhood affects our brains: The proof lies in research!
According to a study published in the journal Behavioural Neuroscience, the grey matter in a mum’s brain actually expands in just the right places after having a baby. That’s right — bye-bye ‘baby brain’ theory!
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland scanned the brains of 19 women who gave birth — 10 to boys and 9 to girls.
Images of these women’s brains were taken 2-4 weeks and 3-4 months after they gave birth.
What the researchers found out was the these mums’ grey matter volume increased by small but significant amounts in various parts of the brain.
To put this in context (and show how amazingly clever mums are!) grey matter in adults usually does not change in such a short period of time without significant learning, brain injury or illness, or major environmental changes.
The researchers believed that these brain cells increased because of hormone levels and the need to cope with the challenges of a new baby.
The areas where grey matter increased were:
- The hypothalamus — involved with motivation;
- The amygdala — involved with reward and emotion processing;
- The parietal lobe — involved with senses; and
- The prefrontal cortex — involved with reasoning and judgment.
Here’s another very cool finding from the study: Mums who talked the most about their babies in glowing terms, e.g. those who rated their babies as special, perfect, beautiful, etc., were significantly more likely to ‘grow’ bigger brains in key areas connected to maternal motivation, rewards and the regulation of emotions.
This was in comparison to mums who weren’t as in awe of their babies!
So, mums, the next time someone quips about ‘baby brain’, or tells you when you say you are a fulltime mum, “Is that ALL you do?”, remember, it’s been scientifically proven that you are the clever one! Mums rock!
Mums, do share your thoughts about this article by leaving a comment below.