We have all heard of “pregnancy brain” and I’m pretty sure it’s been around since before there was science to confirm it. I can imagine ancient cave woman explaining to their partners that they forgot to tend to the fire because they were out hunting for herbs and it completely slipped their minds. Through my three pregnancies, I certainly found that my ability to multi-task was greatly reduced. There were also unexplained and temporary gaps in my memory, such as how to find my way to a friend’s house that I had visited many times before.
A Mother’s Day article in Wired Magazine presented new scientific evidence that pregnancy and childbirth change a woman’s brain and body, not just during pregnancy and its immediate aftermath, but for the rest of her life. These are dramatic and perhaps irreversible changes that may affect who she is and how she functions in the world. A woman’s brain shrinks during pregnancy, and new research shows that this reduction in gray matter persists more than two years after she has given birth, suggesting that change may be permanent. The affected area is in the front of the brain, believed to help people understand the minds of others. Scientists suspect the brain changes help mothers bond with their children. They could also benefit mothers in the long-term; one scientist found that rodent moms are better at mazes that their pup-less peers.
Additionally, a fetus’ cells enter its mother’s body through her bloodstream, and may remain there for the rest of her life. These cells become a part of the mother, integrating into her bones, organs, and even her brain. In studies of rodents, mothers of male pups had neurons with Y chromosomes in their brains. It is unclear if these fetal cells benefit the mother or cause harm, but there is increasing scientific consensus that bearing children forever alters a woman’s mind and body at the cellular level (and of course, on the macro level, too – I will never wear a bikini again!).
Parenthood is one of life’s transformative experiences, altering who we are, inside and out. Two weeks late but better late than never – Happy Mother’s Day!