A new study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience reveals that the structure and size of women’s brains change markedly during pregnancy. The changes were so consistent that they could be used to distinguish the brains of women who had given birth from those who had not, researchers said.
“Our data provide the first evidence that pregnancy confers long-lasting changes in a woman's brain,” said lead study author Elseline Hoekzema of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. Follow-up imaging also showed that some of the structural changes lasted up to two years post-pregnancy.
While the exact cause of these shifts in the brain isn't clear, pregnancy involves hormone surges and biological adaptations, which could affect brain segments. “These changes concern brain areas associated with functions necessary to manage the challenges of motherhood,” said Erika Barba, the study's co-lead author, in a news release.
The research compared magnetic resonance imaging scans of the brains of 25 women before and after their pregnancies. Researchers also looked at brain scans from 19 first-time fathers, 17 men without children and 20 women who had never given birth.