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Brain shrinks during pregnancy: UBC researchers

By Ada Slivinski, 24 Hours Vancouver



The phenomenon commonly known as “mommy brain” might actually have some science to back it up.

University of B.C. researchers have found that during pregnancy a woman’s brain actually shrinks by up to 8%, and doesn’t recuperate to its full capacity until around six months after the baby is born.

UBC neuroscientist Dr. Liisa Galea is one of the researchers who has been studying the effects of pregnancy on the brain.

She said some changes — like brain size — are temporary, but pregnancy does have permanent effects. Even when the brain bounces back, it’s not exactly the same, she said. Part of the reason for this may be the brain adjusting to the new parental role.

“There’s a whole host of maternal behaviours that women have to learn,” said Galea.

She said mothers have different cognitive abilities than other women, with childless females generally having better spatial ability and performing better on memory tests.

Researchers at Simon Fraser University have also been studying the maternal brain and found that women pregnant with boys perform better in these areas than those pregnant with girls.

Galea said that the hippocampus is the area of the brain that shows the most plasticity — first shrinking during pregnancy and then growing after childbirth. This area of the brain is responsible for learning and memory and also regulating stress.

Other studies have shown that mothers experience growth in parts of the brain associated with caring and nurturing as well as those linked with multitasking.





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