Watch CBS News

It's Not Mom's Imagination, Women's Brains Really Do Change During Pregnancy; Study Finds

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Ask any mother and they'll tell you their brain, or their mind, seemed to change after pregnancy, and not always for the better.

It turns out those changes are very real.

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez explained, a new study has looked into what happens to a mother's brain during pregnancy.

It's not surprising that the hormone storm released during pregnancy has profound personality effects on the mom to be.

You can see a smaller version of hormone effects in premenstrual syndrome.

What's amazing here is that the hormones seem to actually alter the structure of the brain.

Ivy Shultz is 21 weeks along in her second pregnancy. She has a 19-month-old boy at home, and said she's not sure she changed all that much after her first pregnancy -- her husband disagrees.

"My husband has noticed that some of my priorities have changed. He says I'm more into planning and organizing," she said.

It's not his imagination. A study just out in Nature Neuroscience found some significant brain changes with pregnancy. Spanish and Dutch researchers did MRIs on 25 women before and after pregnancy and saw that certain areas of the women's brains actually shrank after pregnancy.

Losing grey matter in the brain could mean several things. It could be negative, leading to memory problems, mommy brain, or even Alzheimer's down the road.

It could be neutral, just a reflection of stress, diet, lack of sleep, or it could be nature's way of rewiring a woman's brain to get her ready to take care of her baby.

"Those changes in the MRI are in those areas that would be important for a mother to be a mother. You have to love your child, you have to not hurt a child when you wake up at three in the morning when you don't really want to," Dr. Jacques Moritz, Weill Cornell Medicine said.

Brain scans of the father did not show those changes, just the mothers. The areas changed also lit up when mom was shown pictures of her baby. The findings could one day be important for doctors to know.

"If these very powerful changes don't happen to the mothers, are they more likely to have post-partum depression? Are they less likely to attach with their children?" Dr. Moritz said.

When Ivy thought about it, she realized she had changed after her first baby.

"I've forgotten my keys, I've forgotten my bank card, but the baby's always been very well taken care of and has everything he needs," Schultz said.

We're still a ways away from using brain scans to predict post-partum depression, but this study provides powerful insights into how the brain re-wires itself in response to environmental pressures such as pregnancy.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.