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Shared Wisdom: Motherhood Improves Brain Power

Posted in , on 7-10-12

Shared Wisdom: Motherhood Improves Brain Power

Not only do I draw from my personal experience, I scour the internet and read countless books and articles on baby care to bring you the latest information and help you make informed decisions. Once in a while I run into an article that’s so exceptional, I share it in it’s entirety – my “Shared Wisdom” series. This article by Alastair Jamieson is from The Telegraph, UK news source.

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Although women experience a decline in mental powers during pregnancy, they benefit from better brain functions after giving birth, the study found. Researchers believe the improvement equips women for the greater demands of life with a child and challenges the notion they suffer from ‘baby brain’ after becoming a parent.

“Pregnant women do undergo a phase of so-called baby brain, when they experience an apparent loss of function,” said Craig Kinsley, professor of neuroscience at the University of Richmond, Virginia. “However, this is because their brains are being re-modelled for motherhood to cope with the many new demands they will experience. The changes that kick in then could last for the rest of their lives, bolstering cognitive abilities and protecting them against degenerative diseases.”

His research suggests employers should seek out women who have a family rather than discriminate again them.

Among the high-profile women who claims motherhood enhanced their cognitive abilities is Helena Morrissey, 42, chief executive of an investment firm Newton Capital Management, which has £37 billion of assets, who had her eighth child last year. She maintains that she finds it easier to juggle her responsibilities now than when she had her first child.

Women often report problems with memory and reasoning after they become pregnant. A 2002 study by Angela Oatridge of Hammersmith hospital, London, reported that brain scans of pregnant women showed a 4 per cent decline in size. Last year, two Australian researchers reported that pregnant women consistently performed worse on tests for memory and verbal skills.

However, Professor Kinsley and his colleagues found these temporary declines are part of a process of remodelling the brain, most of which is eventually beneficial.

His studies, carried out on animals including rats and primates, show mothers become much braver, are up to five times faster at finding food and have better spatial awareness than those without offspring.

Kinsley will report his findings to the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting next month.

When he compared the brains of mother animals with those of non-mothers, he found physical changes related to these new-found skills.

In particular, nerve cells in crucial areas known to be linked to parenting had grown larger and developed more connections with neighbouring cells. This appeared to give the creatures more “computing” power. They also grew new sets of brain cells that Kinsley calls “maternal circuits”.

“Although most studies have so far focused on animals, it is likely women also gain long-lasting benefits from motherhood. Most mammals share similar maternal behaviours controlled by the same brain regions,” he said.

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