Byline: Britt Peterson
How pregnancy transforms the brain.
With 80 percent of women experiencing some form of impaired cognitive function during pregnancy, it's no surprise the idea of "pregnancy brain" has taken hold. But a recent paper suggests that the memory loss, stress, and general fuzzy-headedness of the prenatal period may actually have a crucial role in getting women ready to be mothers.
Since the 1940s, doctors have suspected that the hormonal bath of pregnancy helps prepare women for the demands of motherhood. But while there's plenty known about how hormones affect the teenage and the menopausal brains, the pregnant brain is poorly understood and little studied in humans. "Given that the vast majority of women give birth to at least one child, it's surprising to me that we don't know more about the maternal brain," says Laura M. Glynn, a professor of psychology at Chapman University.
Recent research has mostly been done on pregnant rodents, with studies finding that the hormone rush of pregnancy improved spatial skills (leading to better and quicker foraging for food) and multitasking, as well as increased boldness and decreased anxiety. These rats enjoyed the positive effects of having been pregnant throughout their lifetimes, long after their pups grew up.
Now scientists are attempting to apply the animal findings to people. …