Pregnancy can trigger changes in how women’s brains are wired and help them bond with their baby, a new study finds.
Researchers say it alters the cerebral cortex, the outer layer of grey matter that plays a key role in information processing.
This restructuring occurs even before birth, with mothers who experience it the most reporting the strongest bonds with their babies because they are most sensitive to their infant’s facial expressions.
Previous research has focused on changes in the mother’s brain during the postnatal period, but the team, from the University of Toronto in Canada, says the study is the first to analyze changes during pregnancy.
A new study has found that women who experience the most changes in their cerebral cortex during pregnancy report the strongest bonds with their baby after birth (file image)
The findings shed light on a phenomenon dubbed ‘pregnancy brain’ where women say they become forgetful and emotional during pregnancy.
The idea is it helps them concentrate on a newborn’s needs by becoming less focused on, for example, where the car keys might be – making them good mothers.
For the study, published in the journal Child Development, the team looked at 39 pregnant women between ages 22 and 39 from the Toronto area.
They visited a lab twice, once in the third trimester of pregnancy and once between three and five months after giving birth.
Both times, their brain activity was measured while wearing a skull cap that recorded brain waves as the participants viewed four blocks of 40 faces of happy and sad infants and adults.
During each visit, the women were asked to report whether they were experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
On the second visit, they were asked questions about how they were bonding with their babies.
From these reports, researchers were able to determine any brain activity changes from the prenatal period to the postnatal period.
They also looked at associations between brain activity and the mothers’ descriptions of their relationships with their babies.
Researchers found that women with more brain activity in response to babies’ faces from pregnancy to motherhood had strong bonds than women who didn’t have an increase.
Women with more brain activity in response to infants’ faces from pregnancy to motherhood had stronger bonds after birth than those who didn’t show such increases.
‘Our findings support the idea that, in the brain, responses to infants’ cues change over the course of pregnancy and early motherhood, with some mothers showing more marked changes than others,’ said lead author Dr David Haley, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.
‘This variation in turn is associated with mothers’ reports of their emotional bonds with their babies.’
For future research, the team wants to look at whether it’s the mother-infant relationship that influences the neural changes or vice versa.
”The next steps in our research are to examine how emotional and cognitive networks in the brain communicate,’ said co-author Joanna Dudek, a graduate student at the University of Toronto.
‘And whether changes in neural connectivity between these networks are related to how parents understand and respond to the emotional signals of their infants.’via dailymail