Pregnancy changes the brain for as long as two years

For the first time, scientists have found evidence of specific and long-lasting changes in the brains of pregnant women. The changes were measured in brain areas that are responsible for social cognition and the ability to understand the thoughts and intentions of others, suggesting that they may intensify maternal bonding with a newborn.

The neuroimaging study, conducted in Spain, was prospective, looking at the brains of 25 first-time mothers before and after pregnancy, and again two years after the women gave birth. The researchers compared the brain images of these new mothers to those of 19 first-time fathers, as well as 17 men and 20 women without children. The pattern of structural changes the researchers observed in the new mothers were so distinct that it was possible to identify the mothers just from their brain scans. Those changes endured for at least two years, except for a partial return to its previous state in the hippocampus, a brain structure heavily involved with memory.

The MRI study showed changes in gray matter, the outer layer of the brain that contains the cell bodies of neurons. The gray matter in certain areas shrunk in size after pregnancy, a phenomenon known as “gray matter pruning.” A similar shrinkage is seen in early childhood and during adolescence. The gray matter contains many interconnections among neurons, and during pruning, the most important connections are strengthened and the others are left to wither. Rather than indicating a loss of ability, pruning is generally taken to mean that a brain region has become more specialized.

The researchers also found that some women had more gray matter pruning than others, and those with the most pruning seemed to bond best with their babies. “The gray matter volume changes of pregnancy significantly predicted the quality of mother-to-infant attachment and the absence of hostility toward their newborns in the postpartum period,” the authors wrote in a study published Monday in Nature Neuroscience.

In a further experiment, the researchers showed women pictures of several babies and found, unsurprisingly, that the women’s brains responded more strongly to photos of their own babies. The brain images, they said, revealed “the strongest neural activity in response to the women’s babies corresponded to regions that lost gray matter volume across pregnancy.”

Pregnancy is associated with a surge of sex hormones akin to the heightened production of sex hormones during puberty. The researchers noted that gray matter also is pruned during adolescence, when a spectrum of emotional, cognitive and behavioral neural changes begin to fine tune the teenage brain.

Cordelia Fine, a psychologist at the University of Melbourne who had no part in this research, said that “this is a solid study,” despite the small sample size. Fine has written several books about gender and how male-female differences are often overstated in science. “The authors are appropriately careful not to conclude that the brain changes they observe are caused by hormones (or by hormones alone), since they don’t show this directly. However, this is certainly a plausible hypothesis.”

Fine cautions that the brain areas identified by the scientists are also responsible for other functions, not simply attachment. A more significant caveat, she said, is that while the authors of the study “speculate that the structural brain changes they see underlie maturation” of neural networks that “could facilitate attachment . . . it’s worth noting that the authors measured empathy before and after pregnancy, and found no change.”

According to the authors of the study, these brain changes may “serve an adaptive purpose for pending motherhood,” that is, the stronger the mother-child attachment, the greater chance the child survives.

Pain and depression, childbirth pain and mothering

Mothers like me who had a home birth and mothers who had surgical birth experienced pain in different ways. When I was teaching childbirth, I shared my stories but each mother can create their own memories during childbirth. What is important is the support system. I was blessed to be with nurse midwives. Learning more about the process, giving in to nature and our own bodies helped. But please walk a mile a day during pregnancy and eat whole foods.

Breastfeeding is more difficult for me. So in my ebook, Birthing Ways Healing Ways, I wrote all the tips I can give to new mothers. Email me for a free copy at motherhealth@gmail.com

Connie Dello Buono

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Here is the recent news about pain relief during childbirth…(you be the judge mothers)

Women who receive an epidural during childbirth significantly lower their risk of postpartum depression, according to new research.

Study participants whose pain was managed during labor had a 14 percent rate of depression six weeks after delivery, compared to a nearly 35 percent rate of depression for those who did not have the pain relief. The study also found that women who attended childbirth classes during pregnancy and those who breastfed after labor also lowered their risk of postpartum depression. Breastfeeding was more common in the group that had an epidural for pain (70 percent) compared to those who did not (50 percent).

The study, which will be published in the August issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia, involved 214 women, half of whom were given an epidural to reduce their pain during the vaginal delivery of their child. The other 107 participants were not given any pain medication during delivery. The mental statuses of all study participants were examined three days after delivery, and again six weeks after delivery, using an established postnatal depression scale.

“It’s a huge omission that there has been almost nothing in postpartum depression research about pain during labor and delivery and postpartum depression,” Katherine Wisner, M.D., a Northwestern Medicine® perinatal psychiatrist, said in a press release. “There is a well-known relationship between acute and chronic pain and depression.”

Up to 80 percent of new mothers experience some degree of emotional distress after childbirth. It is common for women to have a range of emotions, including weepiness, anxiety, and mood swings. However, if these symptoms last longer than two weeks and become more severe, postpartum depression (PPD) could be the reason. PPD is a type of clinical depression with symptoms such as fatigue or exhaustion, changes in appetite or eating habits, loss of interest in activities you usually enjoyed, and physical pain, including, headaches, stomachaches, or backaches. According to the American Psychological Association, between 9 and 16 percent of women will experience PPD, which can have significant consequences for both the new mother and family.

According to Wisner, managing acute postpartum pain supports the new mother’s ability to emotionally attach and care for her infant. “Pain control gets the mother off to a good beginning, rather than starting off defeated and exhausted,” she said. “Whether it’s vaginal or cesarean-section delivery, pain control postpartum is an issue for all new mothers. There is no way to have a delivery without pain. The objective here is to avoid severe pain. Controlling that delivery pain so a woman can comfortably develop as a mother is something that makes a lot of sense.”

Wisner recommends that women who experience chronic pain one to two months after delivery be screened for depression.

Good news, congrats for having a baby, caring for your baby

Congratulations for the birth of your baby.

Massage

Touch and massage are simple forms of communication. The baby’s skin is more sensitive than that of an adult. Massage lightly with the surface of your fingers and palm. Start from the hands and feet.

Use calendula oil or another natural, light oil such as Almond or Arnica oil. This oil can be used as postnatal care:

  • loosen and relaxes the new baby
  • gently removes the cradle cap on baby’s head
  • protects baby’s delicate skin

Other aromatherapy oil for postnatal care can consist of St John’s Wort, Arnica, Calendula oil, Betula, Vitamin E and pure essential oils of Chamomile, Lavender, Rosemary, sweet Almond and Olive oils.

Baby, Birth and Mothering

Easing the baby’s transition from the womb to the outside world is the most important task of the mother. The mother who is conscious of the needs of the child who was used to life inside her womb bonds well with the baby. She knows and feels the baby’s need for breastfeeding, sleep, and be cared for by her loving hands and presence. A happy mom breeds a happy baby. A healthy diet makes a healthy mother and baby. To care for our babies, we have to care for ourselves.

There are times when the mother has to seek support from others when she herself is suffering from postpartum depression and especially when the baby was born prematurely that his/her young body is still coping with the outside world. Sometimes the baby would cry due to discomforts that the body feels after being born prematurely or with so much medical procedures. Every month the baby shows signs of maturity from his/bowel digestive system, sensory perceptions and other developmental growth.

I salute a mom whom I know who cared for her premature baby and took her home after three months in the intensive care, nursed her from a tube attached to her finger and gave her the medication she needs as directed by the nurses. I thank God for the neighbor who took care of the baby of a mother suffering from postpartum psychosis for almost nine months until the mother was ready emotionally and physically to care for her baby. I know of a mom who knows her own mother’s predisposition to postpartum psychosis that before her baby was born she sought an herbalist to help her during postpartum.

The smile of the baby is the sign of a contented baby and the sign of a nurturing mother. A healthy baby who seldom cries is a result of the non-stop care of the mother who feeds, cleans, and provides for the comfort of her baby. The presence of the mother comforts the baby and the presence of the father or other family members are an extra bonus. That extra leap of growth from bonding with the parents makes baby feel loved and secure.

Beverly Morgan, author of the audiotape, Reading Your Baby’s Body Language, tells new mothers the many ways to explore their babies’ body language as they relate to breastfeeding. Watch the signals that the baby makes when he or she is ready to nurse, to defecate or urinate, to change position and many more things that we learn from babies.

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Tips: I massage baby’s body with calendula oil before each bath and using Dr Breuner’s soap. Sleeping with baby, breastfeeding and massaging them when they are sick helps. Each one of us, as parents must endure letting them go when they become adults or even having their own bedroom at 8 yrs of age. Now my babies are 18 and 20. All born at home with midwives.

I am helping families with college plans, save now , at least $5k per year and see what you can achieve, a lifetime retirement income for both of you, parents and children and future of grandchildren.

Connie Dello Buono

Retirement planner

408-854-1883

motherhealth@gmail.com

CA Life and Health Lic 0G60621

soon helping uncover complexities of Medical and Medicare for affordable senior care