Fertility and pregnancy * Babies and children * Women's health * Mental wellbeing

Giving birth makes mother's brain grow

Giving birth makes mother s brain grow Increases in areas linked to motivation and behaviour

Popular wisdom has it that when a woman gives birth her brain shrinks - but new research has found that the opposite appears to be true.

In the study the brains of 19 women were measured using magnetic-resonance imaging just after they had given birth, and again 4 months later.

A comparison of the two images showed that grey matter volume increased by a small but significant amount in various parts of the brain. This is an unusual result as in adults the brain rarely changes over such a short period without significant learning, brain injury, illness, or major environmental change.

Brain areas affected by the change support maternal motivation (hypothalamus), reward and emotion processing (substantia nigra and amygdala), sensory integration (parietal lobe), and reasoning and judgement (prefrontal cortex).

Interestingly, those mothers who were the most enthusiastic about their new born baby were significantly more likely to develop bigger mid-brains than the less awestruck mothers in key areas linked to maternal motivation, rewards and the regulation of emotions.

The authors of the study speculated that the intense interactive nature of the mother-baby bond may itself trigger these growth patterns - expansion in the brain's "motivation" area in particular could lead to more nurturing, which would help babies survive and thrive physically, emotionally and mentally.

These results may also provide some insight into the causes of post-natal depression, and perhaps suggest a possible avenue for treatment of the condition.

The study is published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.

This article was published on Thu 21 October 2010

Image © Monkey Business - Fotolia.com

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