It’s true, when I was pregnant, I lost part of my brain, probably not literally, but there were times I could have sworn a portion of it had delivered itself during each one of my pregnancies. So when I heard scientific evidence that a pregnant women’s brain, does in fact, change with pregnancy, well, my curiosity was piqued. Could there be real, documented evidence to support a claim that I in fact, could faithfully testify to?
Let’s take a look:
- Hormones: Well, this one is most obvious to every pregnant woman out there. Yes, no doubt even before that little pregnancy stick came back positive we knew something was up, even with our normal hormonal mood swings. Of course, it might be more difficult for our husband’s to notice other than perhaps were even more irritable or emotional than usual. But our response to hormones is a clear indicator that something has changed within us. Hormones like estrogen, oxytocin and prolactin are incredibly powerful agents coursing their way through a woman’s body and a woman’s brain volume (the gray matter) is effective by these changes. Even while the child is in utero, when a woman feels the fetus move, it triggers her heart to race in response and hormones to increase, hormones which will later prepare her for bonding and nurturing her child.
- DNA: If you are a woman who gave birth to a son, guess what? You now carry that male DNA inside you—forever! Before this sends you running off to stock up on shaving supplies and a subscription to Sports Illustrated, take a step back. No, you might not grow a mustache (though sometimes I wonder about those older women with furry lips….) or looking into joining a local MMA league, but truth be told, male DNA has been found inside the brains of women who birthed male children. The good news? These women tended to have much lower rates of breast cancer than their female-bearing counterparts but had higher rates of colon cancer.
- Shrinkage/Growth: Yes, during pregnancy, due to the flood of released hormones and metabolic rates, the brains of pregnant woman have been found to have shrunk in size as opposed to the size of their brains following childbirth. Many factors are involved, and again hormones play a huge role in a woman’s overall pregnancy as well as other issues like lack of sleep, fatigue, perhaps malnutrition due to severe morning sickness and anxieties. Whereas these can all contribute to shrinkage, they can also be instrumental in the swelling and growth of the brain after delivery. This has led researchers to believe these physical changes are intrinsic to her brain in ensuring the survival of her offspring, physical responses to her newborn. If a woman has a decreased level of these hormones, it could also explain the aberrant mother who never bonds with her child. Scientists and medical researchers have surmised, due in part to nurturing and emotional bonding to the newborn, the brain growth may be the reason an exhausted mother can still hear that newborn cry while her snoozing spouse can sleep right through it.
For most of us who have given birth, we know the pregnancy journey is an emotional and at times exhilarating one. And we could attest to some of these notions about a woman’s brain changing, before, during and after pregnancy. But as I’ve come to my own conclusion; having children has changed my outlook on life and whether it’s due to brain changes or just the fact that I’m responsible for these children of mine, I’m not sure.
One thing I do know, I have grown as a person, becoming far more compassionate, considerate and patient to not only my family, but also mankind. Hallmark commercials can often send me running to find a handy tissue and I worry about the effects of global warming in a way I would never have as a twenty-year-old.
Are these quantifiable? Probably not, but if my brain changed, it was for the better.
Kristen Hurst is a stay at home mother of three who enjoys blogging. She received her bachelor’s degree in fashion marketing, and writes often about maternity swimwear. When she’s not trying to juggle the lives of Casey, Austin and Ben, she enjoys painting and catching up with a great Jane Austen novel.