We’ve all been known to blame being pregnant on a whole host of things, and it appears ‘baby brain’ is not only real, it lasts for a long time after we’ve given birth. Experts say having a baby actually changes the structure of a woman’s brain, but not in the way we think it does.
A study of 25 first-time mums has found that there are long-lasting changes that happen in a new mother’s brain that may help her ability to care for her children.
Five year study of new mums
The Leiden University, Netherlands study found that the volume of grey matter decreases in certain areas of a women’s brain after she’s been pregnant, and those changes last at least two years.
“While we knew pregnancy has major physiological and physical effects on the body thanks to extreme hormone surges, brain changes had never been tested before,” the researchers state.
“These changes were remarkably consistent. So consistent that a computer algorithm could automatically identify which of the women in our sample had been pregnant between the sessions and which (had) not,” study co-author Elseline Hoekzema said.
The study compared the MRI brain scans of women before and after their first pregnancy, to women who had not become pregnant, fathers and men who didn’t have children. What the researchers found is that this reduction in grey matter is perhaps a way of the brain ‘fine-tuning’ itself to better relate to motherhood.
“Brain changes may sound somewhat intimidating, but our findings suggest that there may be an evolutionary purpose to these changes that may serve you in some way when you become a mother,” Ms Hoekzema explained.
But does ‘baby brain’ make us forgetful?
The researchers say that while a reduction in brain matter may sound like it would impact our memory and intelligence (hence explaining ‘baby brain’), but that’s not actually the case. “It is important to stress that our findings do not suggest any link to changes in general cognitive abilities or intelligence,” Ms Hoekzema said.
Previous research had found that a woman’s brain shrinks during late pregnancy and can take up to six months to go back to its full size.
To keep up-to-date with everything happening in the world of expecting mums, head to our pregnancy section.