How Pregnancy Changes a Woman's Brain

Ian Waldie / Getty Images
A pregnant woman holds her stomach June 7, 2006 in Sydney, Australia.
This is amazing.

Pregnancy involves big changes for women. Every mother knows that having a baby ushers in temporary and permanent changes to your life, relationships, finances, body, and so on. And now, thanks to new research, we understand that pregnancy changes your brain, too.

A recent study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience found that pregnancy significantly alters a first-time mother’s brain for at least two years after giving birth — meaning that whole “baby brain” thing isn’t just your imagination.

Researchers found that carrying a baby results in extensive reductions in the volume of gray matter in a woman’s brain. Not only that, but the brain structures that change are the ones that control social cognition—the areas that play a key role in how we understand and interpret the actions, intentions and feelings of others. Basically, pregnancy causes our brains to rewire themselves to be more emotionally intelligent.

Scientists attribute these changes to the storm of new hormones that accompany pregnancy. These changes, they surmise, occur to sharpen a woman’s ability to tend to her baby’s needs.

“We may speculate that the female brain undergoes a further maturation or specialization of the neural network subserving social cognition during pregnancy,” the authors wrote. “Very few studies have investigated the effects of pregnancy on measures of social cognition, but there are preliminary indications of facilitated processing of social information in pregnant women, including enhanced emotion and face recognition.”

Long story short: the human body is pretty darn amazing.

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