We decided to bring this issue that started in a recent post on social media about breastfeeding, so we really had to develop it on the Tree of Life’s blog. It’s true that a woman’s brain changes during pregnancy and in the postpartum period, it’s also true that there are ‘functions’ that, as they are less necessary for motherhood, became secondary wisely by the brain, in order to give priority to others. It’s in these phases that the most drastic changes in a woman’s brain occur, surpassing the changes in the adolescent ages.
The ability of the brain to carry out these structural and functional changes is called neuroplasticity or neuronal/brain plasticity, that is, the neuronal circuits become malleable in order to adapt and eliminate unnecessary connections between brain cells, so that the brain remains with more resources to perform the functions of maternity. These neuroplastic changes occur in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex and are called ‘synaptic pruning’.
The attention given to the neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to alter itself by forming new connections – is recent despite being a subject of study by the scientific community. In 1971 the neuroscientist Marian Diamond (1926-2017 USA) verified, after examining the brain of rats (male, female – pregnant and non-pregnant) used in an experiment, changes in the size of the neocortex of female rats that had given birth. Other studies have indicated that these alterations, namely memory impairment, can be maintained for a period of two years after childbirth.
Although the “baby brain” is still seen as an incapacity, as if the woman’s brain had diminished its functions, the truth is it gives the woman the ability to perform several tasks at the same time, recovering from the postpartum period, breastfeeding and to take care her newborn and perhaps other children.
In fact, the great neuroplastic capacity of a woman’s brain allows her greater capacity for learning and recognition. It´s no coincidence that a mother quickly adapts to her baby’s changes. This is due to her ability to recognize signs and changes/evolutions of her baby. Usually, in cases of developmental problems, it’s the mother who detects the first signs and communicates them to her doctor, even if she has never taken a pre-partum course or has never read anything about the development of babies.
In addition to the ability to learn, the ability to unconditionally love her child is also supported by the brain: in this case the hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary to release oxytocin and vasopressin, responsible for feelings of empathy and unconditional love. Despite sleep deprivation, recovery pains and breastfeeding, the mother feels a strong attachment and love for her baby.
So, it’s due to the neuroplasticity that the women have two enormous capacities: learning and loving. A mother reads her baby’s body language like no one else, performs several tasks efficiently at the same time, has sharper senses (have you ever noticed that a mother hears her baby cry when no one hears it?), she may want to isolate herself from crowds, become more relaxed, more contemplative, more tolerant and this to protect and care for her baby while recovering from postpartum and ‘support’ breastfeeding and sleep deprivation.
In men, this neuroplasticity can occur through contact or experience, that is, when the man spends time with the baby and takes care of him.
It’s time to praise the changes in the brain of a pregnant woman or a mother and not consider that she’s incapable and like an alien to the world. It’s true that something could change in motherhood, but as a process of life and transformation that brings growth, maturity and fullness both in the soul and in the physical root of the body.