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pregnancy brain: myth or reality

A woman’s uterus expands up to 500 times the normal size during pregnancy. Her heart gets bigger, too, giving the body up to 50% blood increase.

Internal organs are shifted to make room for the baby. A pregnant woman’s face can change a bit, the nose can swell, feet may grow a size or two, and even voice could be slightly deeper.

No surprise here because a pregnant woman produces more estrogen in a day than a non-pregnant lady does in a whole damn year. Hormone surge, at its best.

And above all, there’s the PREGNANCY BRAIN.

Baby brain. Mumnesia.

Is it a Myth or reality?
The latter.

The pregnant brain shrinks. The grey matter goes to neverland. You think you’re being dumber and dumber as the days pass.

This may not be the music for mama’s ears or formula for being a perfect mother and a smart woman.

Yet, there’s a good and sound reason behind this literal brain reconstruction during pregnancy.

Let’s start at the beginning of this love story.—At some point in the course of pregnancy, probably in the last trimester, a woman can suspect that the baby is sabotaging her in some obvious brain hijacking.

She’s being forgetful and less concentrated on daily brain activities. She feels her cognitive functions are lower.

Recent researches suggest that, in some sense, a woman could be right when saying that pregnancy is, by all means, altering her brain.
What seems to be the deal?

Firstly, pregnancy does extensive reductions in the volume of gray matter in the female brain.

Yet, shrinking brain areas in pregnancy are oddly specific.

They overlap almost perfectly with brain regions that play a key role in how we understand and interpret the actions, intentions, and feelings of others.

This is amazing.

And the brain of a first-time mother stays changed — for at least two years after she has given birth.

But pregnant women did not lose their intelligence.

A woman’s working and word memory are intact.

And this is important, so take mental notes and fear not of the pregnancy (brain).

The network for face processing and emotional cues reading is getting an upgrade during pregnancy. Valuable emotional intelligence areas are forming!

And then there are the hormones.

Pregnancy’s fluctuating surges and waves of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and other sex hormones are unlike any other hormonal roller-coaster ride experienced over a woman’s lifespan. Ever!

As humans were fighting together for survival, evolution needed to sculpt a woman’s brain in ways that would ensure her baby could live. Hormones became the perfect tool to make that magic happen.

There’s more.

Among the women who went through pregnancy and childbirth, the more pronounced the structural changes observed in a woman’s brain (translate: the less concentrated she feel during pregnancy), the higher her level of attachment was to her baby, the lower her level of hostility was toward her newborn.

Brain shrinkage may not sound like a formula for enhancing one’s ability to read and respond to the myriad unspoken needs and feelings an infant has. But consider that one of life’s other periods of brain-volume reduction — late adolescence — also corresponds to a period in life when humans are developing and enhancing key social and cognitive skills needed for the transition to adulthood.

It undoubtedly matters what kind of brain tissue is lost — whether it’s neurons or synapses (the tendrils that carry electrical signals from one cell to another), or white matter (bundles of connective tissue), or glial cells, which have important housekeeping functions in the brain.

In the current study, the researchers acknowledge that they do not know exactly which kind of brain tissue pregnancy prunes. But they do see the volume reduction in regions of the brain that play a key role in social functioning as a change that sharpens a woman’s ability to tend to her baby’s needs.

Scientists speculate that the female brain undergoes a further maturation or specialization of the neural network subserving social cognition during pregnancy. Very few studies have investigated the effects of pregnancy on measures of social cognition, but there are preliminary indications of facilitated processing of social information in pregnant women, including enhanced emotion and face recognition.

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