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The changes in grey matter volume plays a role in levels of attachment between mother and child.
The changes in grey matter volume plays a role in levels of attachment between mother and child.

Pregnancy Causes Long-Term Changes to Brain Structure

Pregnancy Causes Long-Term Changes to Brain Structure

Pregnancy appears to trigger long-term changes in brain structure, researchers have revealed, suggesting that the transformations could boost a mother’s ability to care for her newborn baby.
The study, based on brain scans, found that the volume of grey matter in certain regions of the brain decreased in women who had been pregnant – a shift that was found to last for at least two years.
 “Changes were remarkably consistent,” said Elseline Hoekzema, co-author of the research from Leiden University. “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,” CTV News reported.
The research suggests the changes could help mothers understand the needs of their newborn, and influence mother-child attachment. “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,” said Hoekzema.
Writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers from the Netherlands and Spain describe how they used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare the brain structure of 25 first-time mothers before and shortly after pregnancy. The scans were also compared with those of 20 women who had not become pregnant.
The results reveal that the new mothers experienced a decrease in the volume of grey matter – thought by the authors to imply a fine-tuning of connections – in regions of the brain involved in social processes, with the majority of the changes found to last at least two years after giving birth.
What’s more, the brain regions which showed a drop in grey matter volume were found to overlap with areas linked to the so-called “theory of mind network” –regions of the brain linked to the ability to put oneself in other people’s shoes and imagine how they would think or feel.
 The changes in grey matter volume do appear to play a role in levels of attachment between mother and child, the authors note. Furthermore, the areas that showed a drop in grey matter volume partially overlapped with regions of the brain that showed the strongest response when the new mothers were shown images of their new child, compared to other babies.

 

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