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Mind over (gray) matter

Pregnancy induces structural changes in women’s brains, study suggests

By WITW Staff on December 21, 2016

A new study from the Autonomous University in Barcelona suggests that pregnancy can lead to physical changes in women’s brains that last for as long as two years.

As explained in Stat News, researchers performed MRI scans on 25 women before they became pregnant, and then once again after they gave birth. For purposes of comparison, researchers also scanned the brains of 19 first-time fathers (both before and after their partners became pregnant), 17 men who do not have children, and 20 women who have never been pregnant.

The results of the study indicated that pregnancy might induce structural changes in a woman’s brain. Of all the subjects included in the study, only the first time mothers showed loss of gray matter in areas of the brain involved in registering how other people perceive things.

Rather than dampening social cognition, this loss in gray matter might enhance social networks within a woman’s brain. As Paul Thompson, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, explained to The New York Times, hormone surges in pregnancy might cause a “pruning” in certain parts of the brain, which in turn makes women more efficient at “mothering” skills like nurturing and teaching. The study found, in fact, that women with the most gray matter shrinkage experienced the highest quality of mother-to-infant bonding after birth.

Follow-up imaging sessions indicated that the aforementioned changes in women’s brains can last for nearly two years. Researchers now hope to pursue several new lines of inquiry, including whether changes in the brain can predict postpartum depression, and how the brain might change after multiple pregnancies.

For more on the study’s discovery, watch the video below.


Read more at Stat News.