The body isn’t the only thing that changes during the pregnancy. Besides gaining weight, having cravings, and feeling the gentle kicks in your baby bump, your brain also alters. But, how does pregnancy change woman’s brain? What really happens? This article will answer these questions.
Before we move on to see how pregnancy alters woman’s brain, let’s see how your baby’s brain develops. Your baby’s brain starts forming in the fifth week of pregnancy or the third week after conception. Besides brain, this is also the week when spinal cord, heart, and other organs start to form as well.
Week by week, your baby’s brain will produce more and more cells. In 11 weeks pregnancy (9 weeks after conception) the baby’s brain will grow rapidly and produce more than 250,000 nerve cells per minute. Furthermore, your baby’s heart will be almost developed, eyelids close and won’t open until 27th week. Little fingers and toes are separated now, and the genitals start to form although it is still early to tell the sex.
As you can see, your baby’s brain is quite busy, but so is yours. Let’s see how pregnancy changes your brain.
Physical changes: Pregnancy alters your brain says study
One of the biggest effects of pregnancy on your brain is the way it alters it physically. This idea was proven in a study conducted by Oatridge A, from Robert Steiner Magnetic Resonance Unit, Clinical Sciences Center, Imperial College of Medicine, Hammersmith Hospital, at Du Cane Road in London, England.
The primary aim of the study was to evaluate the changes to the maternal brain during and after a healthy pregnancy. The study included 9 healthy participants and the team of scientists obtained three-dimensional T1-weighted MR volume images before and after they gave birth.
Scientists also obtained additional images of some participants before the pregnancy, during their pregnancy, and 52 weeks after labor. Furthermore, the research also included 5 participants who suffered from preeclampsia in their pregnancy. They were examined before delivery, and 6 weeks after the labor.
Scientists published findings of this study in the American Journal of Neuroradiology. Results showed that both healthy women and women with preeclampsia had a reduction in brain size during pregnancy. The reduction was at its peak at term and it reversed by 6 months after delivery.
Memory lapses: Do pregnancy and motherhood change IQ?
While reading health and lifestyle news on various websites, the chances are high you will stumble upon titles such as Pregnancy changes woman’s IQ forever. But, are these titles correct? Let’s find out.
The so-called loss of IQ is associated with the pregnancy brain or momnesia, when women start experiencing memory lapses. Although some studies claim there is no such thing as pregnancy brain, things aren’t that black and white.
Helen Christensen, Ph.D. of the Australian National University says it’s 100% normal to experience these memory lapses during the pregnancy. The reason why this so-called pregnancy brain develops is because of surging hormone levels.
During your pregnancy, there is 15 to 40 times more estrogen and progesterone practically marinating the brain. These hormones affect the functionality of all neurons in the brain. By the time you deliver, huge surges of oxytocin will cause the uterus to contract, the body to produce milk, and it will also affect brain circuits.
Which is why even after deliver, women feel out of focus. When we add stress, sleepless nights, and care for the newborn to that combination, it’s quite understandable why women’s brain reacts differently than it did before the pregnancy.
Therefore, despite attention-grabbing headlines like the one listed above, pregnancy does NOT change your IQ; it just changes your priorities.
Many women, particularly first-time-moms, spend a great amount of time thinking whether their baby is healthy (before and after delivery). In turn, their short-term memory suffers.
Team of scientists led by Sharp K, from Department of Anatomy, School of Medical Sciences at the University of Bristol, UK conducted a study to inspect memory losses during pregnancy. The study included 48 pregnant women who were given series of memory tests. After each test, they had to compare their present memory and memory before the pregnancy.
Results of this study were published in British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and they showed that 81% of women (39 out of 48) rated their current memory as impaired.
Here’s what you can do to help yourself:
- Get enough sleep
- Write things down
- Make lists
- Arrange your priorities.
Emotional and psychological changes that mothers experience
Scientists have observed the growth in new mothers’ brain areas like hypothalamus, substantia nigra and amygdala, parietal lobe, and prefrontal cortex, all of which are responsible for emotion, reasoning, judgment, pleasure, and reward behavior. They noticed that:
- Just by staring at the baby, the reward centers in mother’s brain will activate and produce dopamine, which automatically makes the mother feel good.
- Hearing pleasant coos and cries, increases levels of oxytocin in woman’s brain.
- The act of caring for the baby creates new pathways in mother’s brain.
- The changes that occur in woman’s brain during and after pregnancy are linked to the development of mothering skills.
Pregnancy marks a new chapter of your life and it, undoubtedly, changes your brain just like your priorities, attitudes, etc. Changes that occur in your brain are directed towards developing mothering skills and they put your child at the top of your table of priorities. Therefore, brain changes during and after pregnancy only make you a better mother. They do not diminish your IQ; instead, they only change your priorities.