New Study: Pregnancy Changes Women’s Brains



Commentary by Charles Sulka


“Women are not fully developed intellectually, emotionally, or psychologically until they have borne children.” — slogan of the Real Women’s movement.

The following article explains that recent scientific studies have shown that during pregnancy, women’s brains shrink — quite a bit, actually.

One theory is that the loss of brain matter in women’s brains during pregnancy is caused by a process of intrauterine brain cell transference. The mother’s brain cells serve as catalysts to trigger genetic memories — instinctive behavior — in the developing fetus. This is why babies are instinctively drawn to nursing mothers’ breasts for suckling, among other pre-cognitive functions, such as crying to get the parental unit’s attention.

As the human fetus develops, a certain number of brain cells from the mother are required to ‘initialize’ these pre-cognitive functions. Evolution has resulted in the female brain being adapted to this purpose. To facilitate this process, specialized brain cells in women’s brains are only loosely attached to the surrounding synapses (some brain cells may not be attached at all.) During pregnancy, brain cells are actually sucked out of the woman’s brain and migrate to the developing fetus.

This process can take a toll on the mother’s mental and physical health. The loss of brain cells results in hormonal changes and (sometimes severe) mental imbalance, resulting in psychological problems and emotional instability. Pregnant women are often described as being on an emotional roller-coaster, much like PMS, only worse. Now we know why. If it appears that the woman is losing her mind, this is exactly what is happening.

Without the resultant instinctive behavior (suckling), infants would not survive. Babies would not realize that they were hungry, nor know how to satisfy their craving for sustenance. The sacrifice of the mother’s brain cells is absolutely essential to the propagation of the species.

The attraction to women’s breasts, and especially their nipples, is thus a deep-rooted attraction, ‘hard-wired in’, so to speak. We never really outgrow this instinctive attraction to women’s breasts, even when we are long past the need for mother’s milk. This attraction to women’s breasts is sometimes regarded as ‘juvenile’ behavior — it can be especially pronounced in adolescent boys. This attraction to certain features of the female anatomy is perfectly normal.

I think it was Freud who first hypothesized a connection between perceived changes in women’s brains and an attraction to the female breast. Dr. Freud was searching for the cause of ‘hysteria’ in women, a widespread condition which has eluded explanation up until the recent scientific breakthrough. The good doctor noted, astutely, that the attraction to female breasts can become a fixation — an obsession — affecting men of all ages, not only young men going through puberty. Without access to modern medical technology, however, Freud was forced to abandon this area of study.

In hindsight, it is apparent that the psychiatric world’s treatment for what was in many cases the temporary loss of brain cells in women only made matters worse. For many years psychiatrists’ treatment for female depression and ‘hysteria’ was the frontal lobotomy (excision of parts of the patients’ brains.) Like blood-letting, the treatment was without scientific merit, and did more harm than good. It is a horrific reality that the psychiatric treatment for a condition caused by the loss of women’s brain cells was to deliberately destroy the women’s remaining brain function through ghastly surgical procedures and terrifying electro-shock treatments. Medical science has come a long way since those barbaric times; today they simply fry women’s brains with powerful psychiatric drugs.

As the following article explains, researchers have finally documented this loss of brain matter in women. As the article makes clear, the brain cells do grow back after a few years’ time. Women’s brains regenerate the lost nerve cells in much the same way that amphibians regrow severed limbs.

(chs 09-07-2017 19:43 -0500)


New Study: Pregnancy Changes Your Brain So You Can Be a Better Mom
Women’s brains get reorganized after giving birth.
By Carrie Weisman / AlterNet
December 20, 2016

We know what pregnancy will do to the body, but what effect does it have on the brain? A pretty significant one, it seems. A new study finds pregnancy triggers fundamental changes in the mother’s brain, specifically in the areas involved in empathy and attachment, suggesting if you weren’t already born with the maternal instinct, getting pregnant will help put you on that path.

Researchers from the Netherlands and Spain relied on magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brain structures of 25 first-time mothers before and shortly after pregnancy. The scans revealed that women who had given birth experienced a loss of gray matter in brain areas involved in social cognition. The majority of changes remained up to two years after giving birth, when the children would be entering into toddlerhood.

The drop in gray matter volume overlapped with areas associated with what’s known as the “theory of mind” network” or regions of the brain linked to the ability to understand the feelings and perspectives of others. The researchers noted that the same regions light up in new moms when looking at photos of their own children, compared to other babies.

“These findings provide some [of] the first evidence that these [brain changes] may in some way help a mother to care for her infant,” said Elseline Hoekzema, co-author of the research from Leiden University.

“[It] is not that mothers are losing brain cells, losing gray matter in these regions, it is that they have actually have other cells come in to help reorganize and change up some of those connections to strengthen them, or at least make them more efficient,” she added.

 The scans were compared to those of 20 women who had never given birth, 19 first-time fathers and 17 men without children. Only the women who had given birth experienced a drop in gray matter volume.

“It does make sense that a first-time mother is going to have to work really hard to understand their baby’s needs,” Kirstie Whitaker, an expert in neuroimaging from Cambridge University, told the Guardian. “They have theory of mind anyway, they are adult women who are capable of empathizing with others, but this is a new stage, this is like another step up in terms of understanding how another being is seeing the world,” explained Whitaker, who was not involved in the research.

“Brain changes may sound somewhat intimidating, but our findings suggest that there may be an evolutionary purpose to these changes that may serve you in some way when you become a mother,” said Hoekzema.

Carrie Weisman is an AlterNet staff writer who focuses on sex, relationships and culture.