New research shows that “baby brain” lamented by women across the world, is a very real thing which may have positive impacts on women’s long-term health and memory.
According to two studies published by PLOSONE and Cerebral Cortex, parts of the brain responsible for empathy and theory of mind – including the capacity to understand another person’s feelings or needs – are heightened during pregnancy and motherhood to enable women to provide appropriate care, particularly for pre-verbal babies.
Led by PhD candidate Winnie Orchard at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, the research examined the structure and function of the maternal brain in women in their 70s and 80s.
Women who had given birth to more children showed younger patterns of brain function and increased memory function.
“We show a consistent pattern across brain structure, function and cognition that suggests motherhood is neuroprotective for the ageing maternal brain,” Orchard said.
Becoming a parent is a monumental life shift, with the transition to motherhood “matrescence” considered a sort of “second puberty” given the huge change in hormonal structures and brain functionality.
“The life-long experience of motherhood provides ongoing environmental complexity and demands, keeping mothers on their toes well into late-life,” she said.
“It is too early to say that motherhood is outright beneficial for the ageing human brain, however, our recent findings suggest that motherhood physically and functionally reshapes the brain for a lifetime”.