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Becoming a mother is one of the most wonderful gifts of nature, which brings about a sea of changes. There is no manual you can use to learn to become a good mother. However, moms don’t seem to need one – they know instinctively what their baby wants and how to keep him happy. How is it possible? Is there something magical about new mothers that helps them do this? The answer lies in your BRAIN!
Did you know becoming a mother brings about many biochemical reactions in your brain? From arousing feelings of love for your baby to anxiety, protectiveness and a strong sense of belonging, your brain starts working overtime. Additionally, your motherly behavioural patterns often end up changing your overall personality and give you what everyone calls the “mommy brain” – a brain that’s very different from the one you had earlier!
A research group from Leiden University in the Netherlands has been studying the brains of women before and after pregnancy. Odd as it may seem, it is possible to see which woman is pregnant just by looking at an MRI scan. Some of the things this research has found out are true miracles of nature, and could explain just how a mother understands her baby so well!
1. Your Brain Changes to Feel The Most Emotionally Connected to Your Baby
As a mother, you must have experienced that feeling of your baby being the centre of your world. He is everything to you. Turns out, your brain plays a big role in evoking these emotions in you! Your pregnancy brain changes in such a way that you feel strongly emotionally attached to your baby. This is why, when you view pictures of your baby, many brain regions light up in delight!
2. It is Again Your Brain That Learns The Art of Understanding Your Baby’s Needs and Feeling Completely
Remember how even in the early days you knew if your baby was hungry or cold, sleepy or playful? Well, the research has found that some of the changes overlap with the brain circuitry in such a manner that you learn some magic. The art of figuring out EXACTLY what another person is thinking and feeling! This is why moms understand their baby like no one else can.
3. What You Think during Pregnancy affects Your Baby
It is not just on you that the pregnancy brain has an impact, but on your baby too! The thoughts that go in your brain at this time can have long-lasting results on your unborn baby. So the ancient Indian wisdom that says the foetus is affected by his or her mother’s thoughts may be true after all! It is believed that by the third or the fourth month of pregnancy, your baby begins to feel your positive or negative emotions and this can affect his growth. All the more reason to try and stay positive and stress-free during this crucial time of your life!
4. Your Brain works Overtime – and Helps Your Body Work Harder too
Ever wondered at your own ability to manage it all, from changing diapers to cooking food to helping baby sleep? Well, it seems that motherhood makes women smarter and more joyous than what they were before – and all due to the changes in their pregnancy brain. However, there exists a flip side to this too. Some studies have proved that our lifestyle and behavioural patterns are quite different from those our parents had and this increases our risk of psychological problems. Too much work and stress can make you vulnerable to anxiety, depression, compulsive disorders, constant worrying and other addictions. So beware of working on the double without help!
5. You Can Blame Your Brain for The Wild Mood Changes too
If you are feeling surprised at yourself for being fiercely protective one moment, and getting maternal feelings coupled with superior joy just after – don’t be. Blame it on the brain! Yes, it has been established that pregnancy sets off changes in the midbrain, parietal lobes, prefrontal cortex and some other areas of a mother’s brain. This is due to hormonal changes occurring during the postpartum period and pregnancy. It is especially true in the areas related to maternal motivation, emotion regulation, empathy and other obsessive behaviours. Under these circumstances, mood swings, irritability and extreme joys become common. The brain of a mom is akin to having a stranger living in her own abode!
6. Your Brain Helps You Feel Wonderful About Your Baby, Despite The Stress
This one probably answers how mothers manage to do it all and yet remain sane! Science suggests that the rewards that come to the fore in a mother’s brain (such as your baby smiling!) create a chemical messenger called dopamine. This dopamine triggers off a strong feeling of goodness after interacting with certain brain cells, thereby making a mom feel happier than before. Also, the pleasant cries and coos of a new-born baby are enough to elevate the flow of oxytocin in a mother’s system. This release brings about positive changes in her mood too. Result: anything to do with your baby makes you feel happy, never mind the sleepless nights!
7. Daddies Don’t Undergo Any of These Changes
This one is interesting, and maybe a bit unfair. The research has proved that there are absolutely no brain changes in first-time fathers. So the anticipation for the baby or helping their wives during pregnancy don’t rub off on their brain enough to actually create a biological change. So the only help your husband has is from his own emotions and understanding of parenting.
8. These ‘Motherhood’ Changes are Not Just during Pregnancy – They Remain for a Long, Long Time
Finally, in case you were thinking that these brain changes are restricted only to pregnancy, that’s not so. As per the findings, while the changes start appearing on an average of 10 weeks after giving birth, they are present until almost two years after childbirth. So you have long-term preparation for being a mother!
Why Your Brain changes during Pregnancy
This is an important question – are all the amazing changes above simply to prepare you for motherhood, like nature’s gift to mommas? Or is there some deeper reason? The researchers think that the differences result from the sex hormones that flood the brain of a pregnant woman. They have noted that there are reductions in the volume of the brain’s gray matter – which could mean the loss of some brain cells or a change in the way your brain cells communicate. This is a bit similar to what happens during adolescence and puberty – also due to a hormonal surge. If you’re reacting to situations unusually after becoming a mother, relax; it’s all natural. Your brain is simply prepping you to take better care of your bundle of joy in ways you never thought before!
So mommies, enjoy your mommy brain. There are several stressors in motherhood and lots of challenges to face – but relax, your brain is here to help you and your baby!