Study shows changes occur in mother’s brain during pregnancy

FROM THE EDITOR. Researchers from the Gregorio Marañon University Hospital, a community center in the Madrid community, have discovered that after pregnancy, the mother’s brain undergoes anatomical changes associated with neuroplasticity. In a study published in a prestigious journal Nature Neuroscience The results of a study in which the brains of 110 women in the third trimester of their first pregnancy were compared with the brains of women who had never been pregnant are shown, confirming that the brains of expectant mothers were already anatomically very different before and after pregnancy. the child was born.

This line of research builds on the first scientific study on the topic, published just six years ago. In it, researchers from Marañón demonstrated that the brain anatomy of mothers three months after giving birth is different from that before the first pregnancy. In particular, changes were observed in a brain network involved in the perception of Self and social cognition, the famous default mode network.


It has also been found that the more the brain changes, the better the bond between mother and child. A line of work that has delved deeper into the maternal brain and demonstrated that changes persist until at least six years after birth and are anatomically similar to those that occur during adolescence, lending support to the idea of ​​matrescence.

The current study was conducted by scientists Susana Carmona, Maria Paternina-Die and Magdalena Martinez from the Neuromaternal Research Unit of the Gregorio Marañon Hospital. In this work, 110 participants were also re-examined in the first month after giving birth, and it was observed that as the postpartum period progressed, some pregnancy-induced brain changes reversed, but others did not. For example, those that influence the brain networks responsible for attention tend to quickly return to pre-pregnancy states after childbirth, but those that influence the default network do not and appear to persist. It is therefore possible that the first pregnancy changes the areas of the brain involved in the perception of the Self for life.

Different types of birth

This work also analyzed options such as delivery type. In this study, 79% of pregnant women gave birth by vaginal delivery, 11% by emergency cesarean section, and 10% by elective cesarean section. The study found that the changes that occur between the third trimester of pregnancy and the first month of the postpartum period vary depending on the type of birth. Women who were scheduled to have a C-section had different brain changes than women who had a vaginal birth or an emergency C-section after giving birth. This suggests that childbirth, whether it results in a cesarean section or a vaginal birth, influences maternal neuroplasticity, although the extent and direction of these changes remains to be determined.

From a neuropsychological perspective, it has also been found that the more anxiety a mother experiences during pregnancy, the worse the birth experience; that a worse birth experience is associated with more postpartum stress, which in turn is associated with more depressive symptoms and poorer bonding with the baby.

Hormonal changes

Thus, thanks to the work of researchers at the Gregorio Marañon Hospital, it has been established that pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period are processes that, although usually occurring together, entail completely different hormonal, immunological and environmental changes. This study revealed that these three processes are also characterized by different mechanisms of neuroplasticity and that it is necessary to evaluate how each of them shapes the maternal brain differently. Without this prior knowledge, it will be impossible to build reliable models that will help predict, prevent and treat perinatal pathologies such as postpartum depression, a disorder that affects almost one in five women.

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