Related Topics: Features, Pregnancy

Being Pregnant Changes More Than Your Body

You have to love researchers for always wanting to tell us something we already know, but in a ‘scientific’ way.

AnnA Rushton

Those massive hormone surges are also affecting your brain too and any woman who has been pregnant sees the visible signs, but the invisible ones are there as well and could be being caused directly by the foetus itself.  Those mood changes, when your concentration goes walkabout and your ability to think sometimes vanishes altogether, may be linked to your central nervous system development.  If you thought you had done all the developing you were going to, then being pregnant actually does change your brain according to psychologist Laura M. Glynn of Chapman University in California.

She recently reviewed material in a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science, that discusses the theories and findings that are starting to fill what Glynn calls “a significant gap in our understanding of this critical stage of most women’s lives.”

Certainly at no other time in a woman’s life does she experience such massive hormonal fluctuations as during pregnancy. Progesterone levels for instance rise dramatically and current research suggests that the reproductive hormones may ready a woman’s brain for the demands of motherhood by helping her become less rattled by stress and more attuned to her baby’s needs.

We know that progesterone normally has the effect of helping balance moods so that certainly seems logical, although the hypothesis remains untested. Glynn has theorized that this might be why a mother wakes up when the baby stirs while the father sleeps on – on the other hand it could be just that they know they are the only one who is going to respond to that urgent demand while their partners carry on snoring!

Other studies confirm the truth in a common complaint of pregnant women: that of impaired memory before and after birth. “There may be a cost” of these reproduction-related cognitive and emotional changes, says Glynn, “but the benefit is a more sensitive, effective mother.”  She doesn’t mention the sheer tiredness factor, which I would have thought, also came into play.

It is a given that the mother’s health and attitude during pregnancy will permanently affects her foetus, but new science suggests that the foetus also does the same for the mother. Foetal movement, even when the mother is unaware of it, raises her heart rate and her skin conductivity, signals of emotion — and perhaps of pre-natal preparation for mother-child bonding. Foetal cells pass through the placenta into the mother’s bloodstream and Glynn is researching whether those cells are attracted to certain regions in the brain and so affect her nervous system functions.

Most research on the maternal brain has been conducted with rodents, whose pregnancies differ enormously from women’s so this needs to be researched on real live human mothers but any pregnant woman will recognize the similarity in the mental states she is describing to those experienced during those nine months.

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