Pregnancy: The Two Year Brain Changer

A recent study lead by neuroscientist at Leiden University and pregnant mother of two, Elseline Hoekzema has shown that a woman’s first couple of pregnancies can resculpt their brain for as long as two years. These changes involve a decrease of gray matter in areas that specialize in responding and processing to social signals. On the bright side, the change involves a productive boost in areas that coincide with the infant’s needs.

Pregnancy is a time of dramatic changes within the female body. It affects not only the physical body, but also touches them on a hormonal and psychological level. With losses such as forgetfulness and problems focusing, a new mother’s hormone levels, blood volume, absorption of nutrients and other capabilities will rise stronger than ever.

You might be wondering how Hoekzema’s study came to these outcomes. She and her team studied the brains of twenty five woman. Firstly before they ever had a children and then again after they gave birth. They also took nineteen first time fathers, seventeen men who never had children and twenty five women who never had children. Via a computer based analyses, they measured the changes in gray matter volume. While none of the other groups presented any changes in gray matter volumes, the test concluded there was a high loss of gray matter within the group of mothers.

Two years after the initial test, eleven of the twenty five mothers came back MRI scans. Amazingly, the scans were able to show that the gray matter loss remained in most areas, but not in the hippocampus area where the matter had been restored.

This study has brought to light that a computer algorithm can now determine if a woman was pregnant just by a MRI scan. But the question now is whether these changes come from the pregnancy or the stress and sleep deprivation that comes with having a baby. Studies now want to be brought to adoptive parents and mothers who give up their babies to push the study further.