Forget Mommy Brain, New Motherhood Boosts Your Brain Power

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Babies

the mommy brain

Your brain is swelling with happiness. Credit: Getty Images

Once upon a time, moms were told -- and they believed -- having a baby meant losing brain cells in the delivery room.

Well, cast aside conventional thinking that suggests "mommy brain" means mindless behavior. New scientific research says all the wee-morning feedings, nursery rhymes and multi-tasking actually boosts the brain power of new moms, ScienceDaily.com reports.

Maternal love, researchers find, grows the brain rather than turning it to mush. This is especially true for moms who are seized with the powerful urge to parent, according to the study published in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Led by neuroscientist Pilyoung Kim, Ph.D., now with the National Institute of Mental Health, the authors speculate that hormonal changes right after birth may help make mothers' brains susceptible to reshaping in response to the baby, according to an American Psychological Association press release.

The study's authors took brain scans of 19 moms at two to four weeks after birth and again two to four months later, and found that their brains showed growth in midbrain regions involved with the experience of pleasure and in the prefrontal cortex, which is linked to reasoning, planning and judgment, the release states.

The findings are especially true for new mothers who seemed to take more pleasure and joy in their role as a parent. Those who selected more positive words from a list of adjectives, such as "ideal," to describe their infants, and words such as "proud" and "blessed" to describe their experience of parenthood, saw greater growth in their emotion-processing regions, Healthland.time.com reports.

"This is a nice study," Dr. Bruce Perry, a child psychiatrist and senior fellow of the Child Trauma Academy, tells Healthland.time.com. "It is exactly what you would expect knowing what we do about how neural systems respond to patterns of activation."

Researcher Kim, who has a 4-month-old baby herself, tells Healthland.time.com life with a newborn is "very emotionally intense."

"I don't see my own brain, but I can see that change is definitely a possibility based on the intensity of the experience," she says.

And, it turns out that this mommy love boosts brain power link is passed down through generations. Kim found that mothers who had had more nurturing from their own mothers during childhood had larger brain volumes in areas related to reading faces and empathy, and that these mothers showed more activation in these regions in response to infant cries, according to the release.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.