HealthPregnancy transforms the brain of women to favor the bond with their...

    Pregnancy transforms the brain of women to favor the bond with their children | Health & Wellness

    Pregnancy transforms the brain of women to favor the bond with their children | Health & Wellness

    Having children changes your life and also your brain. A study published this Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications shows that the release of hormones during pregnancy modifies the brain structure of pregnant women and predisposes them to some maternal behaviors, such as creating a bond, with the fetus first and with the baby later, or even preparing the home for the arrival of the creature, a behavior seen in many animals.

    The authors, led by Elseline Hoekzema, from the Amsterdam University Medical Center in the Netherlands, followed 40 women before pregnancy, during pregnancy and after delivery, to observe changes in their brains at these stages. During that time, through diagnostic imaging techniques, they observed an increase in the activity of the default neural network (DNN), a set of interconnected brain regions, or a decrease in gray matter, an effect that has already been observed. seen in pregnant women in previous studies. All these modifications are related to intense changes in hormonal levels, particularly with the estradiol peak that occurs in the third trimester.

    Hoekzema acknowledges that it cannot be said with certainty that these results mean that the woman’s brain is reprogrammed to care for her baby. However, she did see “that these changes in the brain are related to the mother’s physiological and neural responses to the children” with aspects of her “maternal behavior” and with “problems in mother-child relationships.” ”. “So there are indications that these brain changes, in a similar way to other mammals, play a role in stimulating maternal nurturing and suppressing negative reactions to infants,” she says. On this last point, the researcher says that rats “tend to avoid or even reject their pups, but a hormonal treatment that mimics pregnancy can produce maternal behavior in these females, reducing their negative reaction towards them and making the pups care for them.” produce a sensation of great reward”.

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    The authors consider it unlikely that factors such as awareness of being pregnant or other psychological aspects could explain the large changes in the structure and function of the brains that they have registered. “No associations have been found with other factors such as stress or sleep levels,” says Hoekzema, who says that “although it is difficult to separate physiological factors from psychological ones, we think that the biological aspects of pregnancy represent the strongest factors that trigger these changes.

    Although the effect of motherhood on animal behavior has been studied since the early 20th century, work to understand what happens in the brain of pregnant women is recent. In 2016, Hoekzema published in the magazine Nature Neuroscience a first work in which the changes in the brain structure experienced by pregnant women were pointed out. Among other things, the study showed a reduction in the mass of gray matter. This process, which has also been seen in adolescence, could be a way of eliminating some brain connections to facilitate the creation of new ones, in this case, those necessary to take care of the baby.

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    That study, supervised by Susanna Carmona, from the Gregorio Maranon Hospital in Madrid and Oscar Vilarroya, from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, ​​opened up this new area of ​​research. These two researchers are now at the head of BeMother, a project funded with 2.5 million euros by the European Research Council to study these adaptations for motherhood during pregnancy and postpartum.

    The intention of this line of research is, on the one hand, to characterize this possibility of change that the brain shows during pregnancy. “Before, it was thought that neuroplasticity was limited to childhood and adolescence, but this line of research calls into question that it does not exist in adults,” explains Magdalena Martinez, a neuroscience researcher in the Neuromaternal group of the Health Research Institute of the Gregorio Hospital. Maranon from Madrid and one of the coordinators of the BeMother project. Pregnant women’s brains change, firstly from exposure to a burst of hormones, but also from interaction with the baby after delivery. The second objective of these works, points out the researcher, is that “if we characterize how women adapt in a non-pathological way to these changes, then we could see what to do to help women who suffer from disorders such as postpartum depression, which affects 20% of the mothers.

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    The researcher has also looked for the effect of paternity in first-time parents. “We analyzed two groups of parents, one from California and one from Spain, and we saw brain changes, although not as pronounced as in the case of pregnant women,” recalls Martinez. In the fathers, they saw changes located in the cerebral cortex, which is the outermost and the “most human”, but in the women, in addition to changes in the cortex, they saw changes at the subcortical level, “in evolutionarily highly conserved regions, which we share with other animals, which are more basic”, says the researcher. However, Martinez warns that one should not draw hasty conclusions and affirms that it is necessary to continue investigating. In addition, she states, “it is possible that this reward that is the baby, which makes you want to be close and take care of it because it produces pleasure, is more potentiated in the pregnant mother and the man has to work on it a little more.” In previous studies, both in animals and in humans, continued treatment with the offspring produces physiological changes that favor the care of the young.

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    Source: EL PAIS

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