study of brain changes in mothers

Science is now proving what many women already knew. Having a child changes you. Spanish researchers have been analyzing changes that occur in the brain during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period for many years.

Pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period are processes that involve a wide variety of hormonal, immune and environmental changes. And here is a new work published in the magazine Nature Neuroscience (1), goes one step further by finding that they are also characterized by different mechanisms of neuroplasticity.

Thus mother’s brain undergoes anatomical changes from the very beginning pregnancy, and they appeared again after childbirth. This knowledge can help prevent and treat pathologies such as Postpartum depressionfrom which every fifth woman suffers.

The mother’s brain experiences anatomical changes from the start of pregnancy and returns to them after childbirth.

Headed Susana Carmona, Maria Paternina-Die And Magdalena MartinezResearchers from the Gregorio Marañon Hospital, in their study, compared the brains of 110 women in the third trimester of their first pregnancy with the brains of women who had never been pregnant.

The results confirm that the former’s brain was already anatomically very different from that of a non-pregnant woman even before the baby was born.

“We tested what all mothers already knew, but no one started to analyze it,” Carmona, who works in the research department of neuromaternal medicine at the Madrid Hospital and in collaboration with the “Be a Mother” project of the Autonomous University of Madrid. Madrid, explains SINC.Barcelona.

“When we compared the brain, we saw that many changes brain networks. Not just the so-called default neural network, which is activated when the mind is at rest and deactivated when we do something. tasks requiring attention, involved in processes such as self-reflection and the ability to empathize -; and care-related regions,” he adds.

As the postpartum period progresses, some brain changes caused by pregnancy are reversed, but others are not.

The researchers re-examined all participants a month after birth and observed that as the postpartum period progressed, some pregnancy-induced brain changes reversed, but others did not.

“We saw that those that influence the brain networks involved in attention tend to feed back into condition before pregnancy quickly after birth, but those that affect the neural network by default are not easily reversed, but rather persist over time and are likely to persist for life,” continues Carmona.

What role does delivery type play?

Although the study was not designed to assess type of birth, some women gave birth by vaginal delivery, others by emergency caesarean section, and still others by planned caesarean section.

“When we compared the three groups, we saw that mothers who gave birth by elective cesarean section had different brain changes than those who went into labor, regardless of whether they delivered vaginally or by cesarean section,” says Carmona. “This suggests that labor, regardless of how it ends, influences maternal neuroplasticity.”

Experts also confirmed that the more anxiety mother during pregnancy, the worse her birth experience. “And worse birth experiences are associated with more stress in the postpartum period, which in turn is associated with more symptoms of depression and worst relationship with a child“,” notes the researcher.

What the team of experts still doesn’t know is that there is behind these changes, so they will continue to work on this and other tasks in future research. Of course, the success of such studies largely depends on finding sufficient and suitable samples.

“All these findings should be reproduced using larger samples, and sometimes they are difficult to find. The first study we did took almost 10 years to publish because it was difficult to contact participants,” Carmona lamented.

Long term goals

Some of the questions that will be asked in future studies will be related to what happens in the second pregnancy or in adoptive mothers, because although they do not have changes during pregnancy or birth, they do have changes caused by interaction with the child. . . They also want to further analyze the duration of these changes.

“We also don’t know what’s happening at the cellular level, although we have many hypotheses,” says Carmona. “Ultimately, on MRI we see changes in the gray matter, but there may be other types of cells, such as neurons, glia or astrocytes.”

Some questions that will be asked in future studies will be related to what happens in second pregnancies or in adoptive mothers.

“Similarly, we are unclear whether it is just hormonal related or whether it may be influenced by all the immune system adaptations that pregnancy entails. And we also have immune cells in the brain,” he notes.

What about parents? “We’ve done some studies with fathers and there are changes, but they are smaller than in mothers and more variable. I think they will also depend on the relationship with the baby,” he notes.

Matrescence yes, mommy brain no

Matrescence, defined by American anthropologist Dana Louise Raphael in the 1970s, refers to the profound transformation that motherhood entails. Although it has fallen somewhat into disuse, the term has been revived by psychologists such as Aurelia Atan or psychiatrists such as Alexandra Sachs.

In fact, an article published in 2023 in the journal JAMA Neurology (2) revealed the need to change the history of what is commonly called mommy brain or mom’s brain, which gave the name memory loss Nevertheless, brain fog which affects so many pregnant and postpartum women and they reach the adulthood stage.

The idea that motherhood suffers from memory deficits and is characterized by the brain no longer functioning properly is not scientifically true.

“The idea that motherhood suffers from memory deficits and that the brain no longer functions properly is not scientifically true,” say its authors, three researchers from the Universities of New York, California and Rennes, who highlight the pejorative nature term.

“It’s time to rename mommy brain and this reflects Adapting the Female Brain to the Remarkable Feat of Childrearing. To do this, we must continue to focus our research on understanding set of neural adaptations that accompany motherhood and give this body the credit it deserves,” they conclude.

  • (1) Neuroplasticity of women during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.. Natural neuroscience.
  • (2) It’s time to rebrand Mommy Brain. JAMA Neurology.

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