New mommies’ brains grow bigger

The following post was shared by Kindermusik educator Analiisa Reichlin.

I always said that I lost brain cells with each child I delivered. It’s been my excuse over the last 12 years for all the information and appointments and tasks that seem to fall out of my head. However, some recent research I read seems to contradict that idea.

A recent Science Daily article says this, “Motherhood may actually cause the brain to grow, not turn it into mush, as some have claimed. Exploratory research published by the American Psychological Association found that the brains of new mothers bulked up in areas linked to motivation and behavior, and that mothers who gushed the most about their babies showed the greatest growth in key parts of the mid-brain.”

The authors of the study proposed the idea that all the hormonal changes after birth allow mother’s brains to reshape in response to their baby, and the instinct and drive mothers have to take care of their infant is the result of brain growth.

The researchers performed brain scans on women several weeks after birth, and again at 3 to 4 months post partum. They found that the mothers who most enthusiastically described their infants as wonderful, perfect, precious, beautiful, etc., were significantly more likely to have growth in the gray matter of their brains linked to maternal motivation, rewards and the regulation of emotions.

What made the authors believe that this brain growth was linked to motherhood was the fact that in adults, gray matter volume doesn’t normally transform over a few months without significant learning, brain injury or illness, or major environmental change.

So the questions arose. Does the constant touching, holding, cuddling, between a mother and baby cause her brain to “orchestrate a new and increased repertoire of complex interactive behaviors” with her baby?

Does growth in the brain’s “motivation” area lead to more nurturing by the new mommy, which in turn helps her baby thrive? Does behavior change the brain, or brain change behavior?

Finally, is it possible that post-partum depression reduce the same areas in the brain that grew in the non-depressed moms? Is there something in these findings that could help them?

More research is definitely needed. But these results are interesting, to say the least. So in the meantime, go ahead enthusiastically gush about your baby to everyone!

Special thanks to Studio 3 Music for allowing us to share this great post from the Studio 3 Music blog. Studio 3 Music in Seattle, Washington, the world’s largest Kindermusik program.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *