Having a baby may make a woman more intelligent. And a “Baby brain” is a myth scientists have claimed after discovering that women’s brains actually grow during motherhood.
Research shows that a woman’s brain cells that crunch information grows in the weeks and months after she has given birth, the UK’s Daily Telegraph reported.
Research published by the American Psychological Association found that the brains of new mothers bulked up as they coped with the steep learning curve of dealing with a newborn.
Mothers who gushed the most about their babies showed the greatest growth in key parts of the brain, it was found.
The Researchers at Maryland’s National Institute of Mental Health scanned the brains of 19 women who gave birth to 10 to boys and nine to girls.
A comparison of images taken two to four weeks and three to four months after the women gave birth showed that grey matter volume increased by a small but significant amount in various parts of the brain.
In adults, the brain does not usually change in such a short time period without significant learning, brain injury, illness or large environmental changes.
“Whether this is affecting mothers’ behaviours or are mothers’ behaviours affecting the brain? It’s not clear,” lead researcher Dr Pilyoung Kim told LiveScience.
The authors speculated that hormone levels and the need to cope with the challenges of a baby led to the increase in brain cells.
The areas affected are involved with motivation – the hypothalamus -, reward and emotion processing – the amygdala – senses – parietal lobe – and reasoning and judgment – the prefrontal cortex. The findings were published in the journal Behavioural Neuroscience.
The motivation to take care of a baby, and the hallmark traits of motherhood, might be less of an instinctive response and more of a result of active brain building, the neuroscientists Dr Craig Kinsley and Dr Elizabeth Meyer speculated.
Mothers who most enthusiastically rated their babies as special, beautiful, ideal, perfect and so on were significantly more likely to develop bigger brains than the less awestruck mothers in key areas linked to maternal motivation, rewards and the regulation of emotions.
Although these early findings require replication with a larger and more representative sample, they raise intriguing questions about the interaction between mother and child, said the report. [via Daily Telegraph (UK) and Mother & Baby Magazine]