Right before childbirth, a part of your brain reduces. But here's how the change makes your brain more powerful.
Without a doubt, you may be well aware of most of the physical changes you go through while you're pregnant. But what about the changes that are not visible when you look in the mirror? If you're a mother, there are probably some changes that have permanently taken over your body or have longlasting effects. And one of them is the size of your brain.
Experts have found that pregnancy can significantly change the size and structure of the brain. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found that pregnancy led to a reduction in the gray matter of a woman's brain. This means that once you give birth, it can have longlasting effects on your brain. The part of your brain that shrinks also plays a role in understanding your own thoughts and feelings, and also understanding what other people's intentions might be, according to CNN. This part of your brain is also responsible in helping you understand what other people might be going through and pick up on their nonverbal cues, according to Healthline.
It was also found that although the brain size may reduce, it might be your brain's way of becoming more powerful, efficient and adapting to your new role of a mother. The study also found that women who lost a higher amount of gray matter in those areas experienced stronger bonds with their babies and had lesser chances of developing negative feelings towards their little ones.
When you welcome a newborn baby into the house, you suddenly have a number of great responsibilities on your plate, and the changes your body undergoes could be preparing you for them. “Think about this as a form of ‘spring cleaning’. It’s making things more organized, streamlined, coherent to prepare mothers for the complexity and urgency of childcare,” said Robert Froemke, PhD, a neuroscientist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. He also explained that these changes in the brain could make you instinctively respond better to your baby.
Therefore, your brain 'shrinking' or reducing is not a bad thing. Elseline Hoekzema, who led the study at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain, said “Gray matter volume loss does not necessarily represent a bad thing. It can also represent a beneficial process of maturation or specialization,” according to The New York Times. The researcher mentioned that this is one of those cases where less is actually more.
The study also found that most of these changes lasted for 2 years after birth. But the researchers are unsure of what happens beyond that. "We haven't investigated whether these changes stretch beyond this period," said Elseline Hoekzema, co-lead author of the study and senior brain scientist at Leiden University, Netherlands.
Although the understanding is not concrete, researchers believe that parts of a woman's brain do grow back, however, the reducing of brain volume is “like the erosion of the coast, but there are not many things that put the coast back,” said neuroscientist, Paul Thompson.
Women are often made to believe that once they become mothers, something strange happens to their memory. If you have often forgotten to pick up the dry cleaning or picked up the wrong cereal box after you gave birth, you might have wondered what was going on at the time. People often call this 'mommy brain' or 'baby brain'. However, as per Healthline, Froemke explained that the study did not find significant links between the changes in the brain and memory.
But it was explained that this forgetfulness could be because when you become a mother, your brain has other priorities to remember. For instance, remembering that you need to pick up diapers is more important than remembering that you need to grab pancake mix on the way home. Similarly, you won't forget that you need to wake up at 4 am to feed your baby but you might forget that your favorite show is coming at 9 pm.
These memory changes could be because your mind is prioritizing thoughts for your baby. Another possible reason for these memory changes could be the new stress you face as a new mother.
Nevertheless, these changes are completely fine and no matter how long they last, it is natural for a woman to go through them. Even as you age, whether or not these changes last doesn't matter.
As you age, you will still be a mother for the rest of your life. And whether the changes of childbirth are permanent or not, the main takeaway is that it has helped you be more efficient and nurturing as a mother.
“Parenting — particularly motherhood — is among the most complex and stressful set of events and behaviors we experience in our lives. Thus it’s no surprise that a number of changes occur in our brains when we become parents," said Froemke.