Here’s how pregnancy changes your brain

Study shows brain changes linked to maternal behavior.


Not only do the hormones overturn in expectant mothers, the brain also changes during pregnancy, as a research team from the Netherlands has now discovered. A recent study shows what this has to do with the mother-child bond.

Whether it’s your favorite dish that suddenly no longer tastes good, the circumference of your abdomen or hot flashes – a lot changes in and on the female body during pregnancy. One reason for this is the hormonal balance, which adapts. In nine months, it regulates different messenger substances up and down. At the same time, something also changes on the emotional and cognitive level, because the brain also adapts.

New study shows how the brain changes in pregnant women

The neuroscientist Elsine Hoekzema and her research team from the Netherlands have conducted a study with 40 pregnant women at the University Hospital UMC, which has just been published in the journal Nature Communications. The control group consisted of 40 non-pregnant women. The team wanted to find out whether pregnancy causes major changes in the brain, i.e. neuroplastic processes. “We also wanted to see what effects possible changes in the brain could have on mother and child,” Hoekzema told the journal.

Brain scans and other tests were performed on study participants during and after pregnancy. These examinations were repeated one year later in 28 women. Using the control group, the team found that pregnancy leads to selective and robust changes in neuronal architecture and the organization of neural networks in the brain. This is the so-called regional network, which is also known as the retirement network. These brain regions are active when we are not doing tasks and have nothing to do. In a smaller study six years ago, the research team found that this region is becoming smaller and less active, particularly in young pregnant women.

Impact on mother-child bonding

The new study shows that the change in the brain is related to the release of sex hormones. And that affects the feelings and behavior of the mothers. The women who experienced a lot of brain changes during pregnancy bonded more closely with their baby a year after giving birth. Due to the stronger brain changes, they were able to perceive the fetus as an independent individual already during pregnancy and later.

Response to laughing and crying babies

The changes in the brain became clear because the pregnant women reacted more intensively to positive baby stimuli. In addition to questionnaires on attachment behavior, the test subjects’ physical reactions to laughing and crying babies were also observed. For example, women’s pulses would calm when they were presented with a baby’s laughter. In addition, they later had hardly any negative feelings towards their child. The researchers realized that the change in the brain leads to maternal behaviors. “We found several indications that the brain changes are related to aspects of maternal behavior, such as the physical response to signals from the infant, the instinct to build nests, and attachment behavior,” says Hoekzema.

Important at the point: The results of the study do not suggest that mothers with less severe brain changes have poor attachment to their children.

On average, the brain changes had regressed to prepregnancy levels about a year after birth. The volume, which is crucial for memory performance, increased particularly in the area of ​​the hippocampus complex.

Becoming a mother changes the basic state of the brain

The study shows: There is an interaction between brain changes and “maternal behavior”. According to the neuroscientist, causality is very difficult to prove: “You don’t want to intervene in the processes in the brain or carry out massive hormone treatments to see what happens.” However, the study results indicate that the pregnancy-related changes in the structure and function of the brain are of crucial importance for the bonding between mother and child during pregnancy and even after birth.

Sources used:,,

This article originally appeared in ELTERN.

Source: Brigitte

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Deborah Acker

I write epic fantasy; self-published via KDP. Devoted dog mom to my 10 yr old GSD, Shadow! DM not a priority; slow response at best #amwriting #author.

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