Anne Lamott wrote that each baby comes out clutching a third of its mother’s brain. And in my experience, that feels about right! Just the other day, I warned my husband that I may be experiencing early onset dementia.
Here are five crazy ways pregnancy changes your brain
1. Your brain shrinks… literally
It appears that there may be a physical component to “baby brain.” Researchers at Hammersmith Hospital in the U.K. discovered that brains of healthy pregnant women decreased in size by up to six percent! Fortunately, women’s brains return to their prepregnancy size six months after delivery.
2. You get filled with love hormones
Oxytocin, or the “hormone of love and bonding,” is something we release naturally during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Oxytocin makes women calmer, more trusting, and more open to love. In fact, levels of oxytocin in pregnant women can even predict mother-child bonding. While oxytocin amps up the love within a family, it can also increase defensive aggression toward people outside of the family group, which explains the phenomenon of Mama Bear. Grr….
3. You get great at recognizing faces
Researchers at McMaster University recently found that pregnant women are significantly better at recognizing faces – men’s faces in particular. Why? Well, one theory holds that women become particularly vigilant toward men during pregnancy, to quickly spot – and avoid – threats.
4. You become a master multitasker
We already know that women are better at multitasking then men. Apparently, the performance gap widens even further during pregnancy, when activity increases in the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brains in charge of multi-tasking.
5. You get smarter
Wait, isn’t the whole “baby brain” thing supposed to be about moms losing some of their wits? Not quite. A study out of Yale study found that motherhood sets off structural changes in the brain, increasing its processing capabilities. And the more doting moms are on their babies, the smarter the mothers become! YAY!
So maybe “baby brain” ain’t all bad?
Most moms have experienced what is known as "baby brain." But it turns out that our brains really do undergo some surprising changes during pregnancy.
Apparently not! Which is encouraging news. Just because I can’t remember what day it is, or when the baby went down for a nap, doesn’t mean I’m less intelligent. It just means that I’m running on less sleep – and maybe that I’m dedicating more mental resources to loving my kids.
One last bit of good news
In laboratory tests, pregnant rodents experienced many of these same benefits (better multitasking, spatial skills, and decreased anxiety). But here’s the kicker: the rats enjoyed these benefits of pregnancy throughout the rest of their lives, long after their babies grew up. Hey, so we’ve got that going for us too.