Ever hear the adage that each baby has a chunk of your brain in his hand when he’s born?
Wrong—if the findings of some preliminary studies conducted by neuroscientists at Yale-New Haven Hospital are confirmed.
They compared brain MRIs made in 19 women a few weeks before and 3-4 months after they gave birth and found that several areas of the gray matter in the mothers grew after the babies were born. Specifically, these were the hypothalamus, substantia nigra and amygdala, parietal lobe, and prefrontal cortex--areas that are responsible for motherly motivation (=just suck up those repeated awakenings at night), processing of reward and emotion, sensory integration and—believe it or not--judgement and reasoning. Relatively rapid brain changes like these apparently are not seen in adults on a routine basis.
Are the changes caused by hormones or the social and tactile interactions between mother and child? Future studies may include adoptive mothers to answer that question. Speaking of mothers, what about fathers? Studies are planned to see if fatherhood produces changes in men’s brains, too. The scientists will also try to reproduce these findings in a larger group of women.
And one more thing—don’t be embarrassed to gush about your baby and bore your family and friends with endless streams of photos. Women who were the most enthusiastic about their babies had the largest gains in gray matter. Chicken or egg? Who knows, but it’s nice for the baby.
Read more about this at ScienceDaily. The original article appears in the October issue of Behavioral Neuroscience. The lead investigator was Pilyoung Kim, PhD, who is now working at the National Institute of Mental Health.