Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How pregnancy changes a woman's brain

Date:
December 21, 2011
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
We know a lot about the links between a pregnant mother's health, behavior, and moods and her baby's cognitive and psychological development once it is born. But how does pregnancy change a mother's brain?

We know a lot about the links between a pregnant mother's health, behavior, and moods and her baby's cognitive and psychological development once it is born. But how does pregnancy change a mother's brain? "Pregnancy is a critical period for central nervous system development in mothers," says psychologist Laura M. Glynn of Chapman University. "Yet we know virtually nothing about it."

Related Articles


Glynn and her colleague Curt A. Sandman, of University of the California Irvine, are doing something about that. Their review of the literature in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science, discusses the theories and findings that are starting to fill what Glynn calls "a significant gap in our understanding of this critical stage of most women's lives."

At no other time in a woman's life does she experience such massive hormonal fluctuations as during pregnancy. Research suggests that the reproductive hormones may ready a woman's brain for the demands of motherhood -- helping her becomes less rattled by stress and more attuned to her baby's needs. Although the hypothesis remains untested, Glynn surmises this might be why moms wake up when the baby stirs while dads snore on. Other studies confirm the truth in a common complaint of pregnant women: "Mommy Brain," or impaired memory before and after birth. "There may be a cost" of these reproduction-related cognitive and emotional changes, says Glynn, "but the benefit is a more sensitive, effective mother."

The article reviews research that refines earlier findings on the effects of the prenatal environment on the baby. For instance, evidence is accumulating to show that it's not prenatal adversity on its own -- say, maternal malnourishment or depression -- that presents risks for a baby. Congruity between life in utero and life on the outside may matter more. A fetus whose mother is malnourished adapts to scarcity and will cope better with a dearth of food once it's born -- but could become obese if it eats normally. Timing is critical too: maternal anxiety early in gestation takes a toll on the baby's cognitive development; the same high levels of stress hormones late in pregnancy enhance it.

Just as Mom permanently affects her fetus, new science suggests that the fetus does the same for Mom. Fetal movement, even when the mother is unaware of it, raises her heart rate and her skin conductivity, signals of emotion -- and perhaps of pre-natal preparation for mother-child bonding. Fetal cells pass through the placenta into the mother's bloodstream. "It's exciting to think about whether those cells are attracted to certain regions in the brain" that may be involved in optimizing maternal behavior, says Glynn.

Glynn cautions that most research on the maternal brain has been conducted with rodents, whose pregnancies differ enormously from women's; more research on human mothers is needed. But she is optimistic that a more comprehensive picture of the persisting brain changes wrought by pregnancy will yield interventions to help at-risk mothers do better by their babies and themselves.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. L. M. Glynn, C. A. Sandman. Prenatal Origins of Neurological Development: A Critical Period for Fetus and Mother. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2011; 20 (6): 384 DOI: 10.1177/0963721411422056

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "How pregnancy changes a woman's brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 December 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111221140633.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2011, December 21). How pregnancy changes a woman's brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111221140633.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "How pregnancy changes a woman's brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111221140633.htm (accessed November 24, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) A new study links greater authority with increased depressive symptoms among women in the workplace. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Newsy (Nov. 23, 2014) Millions of American suffer from seasonal depression every year. It can lead to adverse health effects, but there are ways to ease symptoms. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins