There is no question that motherhood changes a woman. As it turns out, these changes extend beyond a need for stretchier pants and a superhuman ability to run on very little sleep.
In fact, according to a new study, motherhood is so life-changing, pregnancy actually alters the makeup of a woman’s brain. The authors of this study examined the brains of 25 first-time moms and compared them to the brains of 19 first-time fathers along with 20 women who hadn’t given birth and 17 childless men.
By looking at MRI brain scans taken both before conception and after birth, researchers were able to determine that the women who had given birth had a decreased gray matter volume. And it turns out that this shrinking of gray matter is actually a good thing.
Scientists believe that decreased gray matter volume in specific areas of the brain is a signal that certain cognitive functions have matured. In this study, the shrinking gray matter mostly occurred in the anterior and posterior cortical midline and specific areas of the prefrontal and temporal cortex. The areas of the brain most affected are associated with social cognition. Researchers also saw a lot of overlap in areas that light up when a mom is interacting with her newborn.
The moms in this study who experienced the most significant shrinking of gray matter actually reported the highest level of attachment and bonding with their baby.
The researchers responsible for this study want to continue their research to determine if changes to the brain can be used to predict the onset of postpartum depression. They have also yet to determine if the results of this study would be different for moms who have given birth more than once.
For now, it looks like moms might have to start blaming sleeplessness for our forgetfulness and occasional mistakes, since “mom brain” may actually be a good thing.