You may have heard of “Pregnancy Brain”, which some say cause pregnant women to have a heightened emotional response and abnormal food cravings.
While the details of “pregnancy brain” are still being studied, a new study published in “Nature” suggests that pregnancy has a long-term impact on the structure of the human brain.
Researchers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, in Barcelona, Spain discovered that the volume of gray matter (GM) changes after a woman’s pregnancy. Scientists argued that the changes in GM consistently predicted the amount of postpartum maternal attachment.
Scientists suggest that these long term structural changes serves as a biological adaptation to transition a woman into motherhood.
What’s interesting to note is that the GM volume changes lasted for at least two years after pregnancy.
In this prospective cohort study, scientists analyzed the MRI results of first-time mothers before and after their pregnancy. The data was collected over the course of five years. Subjects recruited from a fertility center in the Barcelona, Spain.
The new study suggests the hormonal changes may affect the amount of GM in the brain. Studies have previously shown that reduction in GM volume results in synaptic pruning – the biological process that refines and improves the brain’s circuitry.
Synaptic Pruning consequently provides an environment in the brain that allows for healthy cognitive and social development, which changes behavior.
Researchers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona found the volume GM reductions of the pregnant specifically impacted with the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is known to play a major part in human senses such as touch, taste, and smell.
Ultimately, researchers argue that pregnancy causes an increase in hormonal changes, similar to the hormonal changes found in adolescents. Scientists also assert that the changes in GM volume effects social cognition during pregnancy, which could explain why pregnant women experienced enhanced emotions and enhanced facial recognition.