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'Mommy Brain' May Trigger Brain Growth

Being Spaced Out, Forgetful Aren't the Only Changes That Come With Motherhood, Researchers Say
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More Input on Brain Growth After Giving Birth

The new research is ''beginning to translate animal work into meaningful human connections," says Craig H. Kinsley, PhD, professor of neuroscience at the University of Richmond in Virginia, who wrote a commentary accompanying the study and has also done work in the field.

The finding of brain growth is not surprising, he tells WebMD. ''The work that we have done and others have done indicates there are functional differences in the brains of mothers versus non-mothers and anatomical differences."

Recent research, Kinsley says, has prompted experts to rethink what some term the ''construction of the maternal brain." It may not be as instinctual as people believed, he says.

"When most people look at the interaction between a mother and her infant, most would assume it is unilateral. But in fact there are a tremendous number of stimuli coming back from that infant to the mother," he says.

"That stimulation doesn't just bounce off the brain, it causes the brain to respond in ways that you would expect based on what Kim showed."

It may be the combination of hormones and the flood of stimuli from the infant (when he's hungry, wet, distressed) that lead to brain changes and behavior changes, Kinsley says.

"Now you have this symbiosis if you will," he says.

In research looking at so-called ''pregnancy brain," he says, the vast majority of the work was focusing on verbal memory and cognitive skills. But having a good vocabulary and remembering numbers aren't behaviors crucial to bonding with a newborn, he says.

So far, the research by Kim's group shows correlation with birth and maternal brain changes, not cause-and-effect, Kinsley agrees. But, he adds, "If I had to guess, I'd guess it's related to hormonal changes in the mothers during pregnancy and value added from the infants once they arrive."

Both Kim and Kinsley say the research findings may eventually prove helpful in figuring out what might go awry in the brains of mothers who are indifferent or abusive.

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