You can’t find your phone (even though you’re reading from it right now), forgot about a 9am meeting with your boss, put your husband’s clean gym socks in the freezer and left a bag of frozen peas in his dresser drawer. Yep, sounds about right when you’re pregnant. That’s okay — no one expects you to be on your A-game right now (after all, you’re growing another human being inside of you). “Pregnancy brain” is the common way we refer to those little mental lapses, which we thought was just to give pregnant woman a break. But recent research published in Nature Neuroscience says being pregnant may actually change your brain.
Researchers from Leiden University in the Netherlands and Autonomous University in Barcelona looked at how pregnancy may indeed change the pregnant and postpartum brain by taking brain scans of various groups for comparison. They took scans of 25 first-time mamas and 19 of their male partners during and after pregnancy. They also scanned 20 women who weren’t, and have never been, pregnant and 17 of their male partners.
The aim here was to compare the different groups’ brain structures, looking to see if the mommy group had changes that the men and the non-childbearing group didn’t have. Amazing enough, the researchers found that pregnant women’s brains changed. The researchers also went back and re-scanned the participants two years post-pregnancy and found that the changes in the brain caused by pregnancy are long-lasting ones.
SO WHAT CHANGED IN THE MOTHERS’ BRAINS?
Pregnant women had lost some gray matter, according to brain scans. Yikes! Losing valuable brain real estate? That’s right. But it’s actually not bad at all.
The majority of the gray matter loss was found in the areas of the brain that help with social cognition, especially emotional intelligence. This means that the centers affecting the women’s ability to perceive feelings and take in other people’s perspectives were different during and after pregnancy.
Okay, so why would being less perceptive to others be a good thing? Researchers think that the loss of gray matter in these areas may in some way enhance mom’s response to her baby. Further proof: The mothers who had lost the most gray matter also scored the highest on measures of emotional attachment to their babies. Wow.
COULD THE CHANGE HAVE NEGATIVE EFFECTS?
Even though researchers found that pregnancy can actually change your brain, they aren’t entirely 100 percent certain of what it means. The main, and most hopeful, idea here is that it’s an adaptive process that helps to foster the mommy-baby relationship.
If this theory isn’t true, it’s possible that the gray matter loss is simply a change related to pregnancy that doesn’t mean much (after all, your hips and butt won’t ever be the same either). Or, it could be a not-so-great effect of being preggo.
But there’s little evidence to back up the idea that losing this type of gray matter does anything negative to mommies. The researchers looked at the participants’ cognition (mental abilities) and found no decrease in areas such as memory or verbal skills. So next time you find your keys in the freezer, think about how amazing it is that your brain is possibly supporting your connection with your growing little one.
What do you think about this “baby brain” research? Share your opinion and tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)