Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Baby-Brain Exists!

Motherhood doesn't change just your life. It also changes your brain. Becoming a mother causes permanent changes in a woman's brain structure.

Latest neuroscience research suggests having babies permanently alters brain function. Reproductive hormones ready a woman’s brain for the demands of motherhood—helping her becomes less rattled by stress and more attuned to her baby’s needs. If you're a rat, it makes you better at finding and killing dinner quickly. If you're a human, it helps you distinguish between your baby's cry and that of other children. In either case, it's something fathers just don't get. Only mothers undergo these changes.

Source: Chapman University

Source: Azcentral

Between the first and second brain scan, women showed an increase in the grey matter volume in several areas of the brain, including the superior, middle and inferior prefrontal cortex, precentral and postcentral gyrus, superior and inferior parietal lobe, insula and thalamus. No areas of the brain showed a reduction in grey matter volume.

The researchers conclude that “the first months of motherhood in humans are accompanied by structural changes in brain regions implicated in maternal motivation and behaviours”.

Source: NHS

Motherhood improves a woman’s perception, efficiency, resiliency, motivation, and emotional intelligence (slap THAT on your CV!)  Each category is supported by many animal studies as well as some human studies showing ways in which mothers have an edge. What’s more, although it’s hard to measure whether the mind-boosting benefits of motherhood are temporary or permanent in humans; rat studies show that the benefits of mothering last until the animals reach an age equivalent to age 80 in humans.

Source: Baby Center

There is also research which shows that fathers-to-be experience hormonal changes too - elevated levels of prolactin and cortisol, and a reduced level of testosterone, which drops by a third on average in the first three weeks after the man's child is born. These are thought to be caused by exposure to the pregnant woman's hormones as there is evidence to suggest that men who spend time with mums can also experience the changes. I haven't yet found research which shows permanent changes to a father's brain structure in this way, although there are preliminary animal studies which show it happens if a father animal is present with his newborn young.

Source: Slate

Source: Scientific American

I find that fascinating - 'babybrain' exists, but not in the detrimental form we flippantly talk about. It could explain biologically why mums bore other people to death talking about their offspring, and why some dads, particularly those less hands-on, or other non-parents don't seem to understand the inherant amount of focus that mum has on her children.

Special thanks to jennyskydance for her contribution to this research.

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