Pregnancy causes a host of characteristically visible changes in a woman's body. However, some of the biggest changes may not be in plain sight. As it turns out, pregnancy induces dramatic effects in the brain of moms-to-be, and these changes can persist even years after giving birth.
In a study published last year in Nature Neuroscience, researchers scanned the brains of 25 women who were becoming mothers for the first time. The scans were collected before and after giving birth. Compared to women who had never given birth, the brains of new mothers showed significant loss of gray matter. In particular, the loss was localized to brain areas associated with social cognition. The results were surprising with no obvious explanation.
The lead author of the study, Elseline Hoekzema, theorized that loss of brain matter is a way of refining the brain so as to help women adapt to their roles as new moms. "Loss of volume does not necessarily translate to loss of function," said Hoekzema, "Sometimes less is more." She explained that the loss of gray matter could "represent a fine-tuning of synapses into more efficient neural networks."
Watch the video to learn more about how the woman's brain changes after giving birth.