-- Robert Preidt
FRIDAY, Oct. 22 (HealthDay News) -- The brains of new mothers
actually get bigger within months of giving birth, according to new
The researchers, most from the Yale University School of
Medicine, said that the growth was likely fueled by changes in
levels of certain hormones just after birth. They reported finding
expansion in areas of the brain associated with behavior and
The researchers also found that mothers who were most
enthusiastic about their babies had more growth in key parts of the
mid-brain -- areas linked to maternal motivation, rewards and
emotion processing -- than did mothers who were more reserved about
The findings, from a small study reported in the October issue
Behavioral Neuroscience, suggest that a new mother's desire to look after her baby may be driven less by instinct and more by active brain building, according to two neuroscientists whose commentary on the study was also published in the journal.
Led by neuroscientist Pilyoung Kim, the study compared MRI
images of 19 women taken two to three weeks and three to four
months after they gave birth at Yale-New Haven Hospital, in
Connecticut. The women averaged about 33 years old, all were
breast-feeding, nearly half had other children and none had
The brain scans revealed small but significant increases in gray
matter volume in various parts of the brain, including areas
associated with maternal motivation (hypothalamus), reward and
emotion processing (substantia nigra and amygdala), sensory
integration (parietal lobe) and reasoning and judgment (prefrontal
In adults, gray matter generally does not change size over a few
months without significant learning, brain injury or illness, or a
major shift in the environment, according to background information
in a news release from the American Psychological Association.
Hormonal changes that occur immediately after birth, including
increases in estrogen, oxytocin and prolactin, may make new
mothers' brains more susceptible to reshaping in response to their
infant, according to the researchers.
Mothers who suffer postpartum depression may experience
reductions, instead of growth, in these same brain areas, the
researchers suggested. They added that further research into what
occurs in the brains of at-risk mothers could lead to new
The Nemours Foundation has more about
bonding with babies.
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