Wednesday June 20th, 2018 11:25AM
6:01AM ( 5 hours ago ) Weather Alert

Brain changes seen in pregnancy, may help preparing for baby

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

NEW YORK (AP) — Pregnancy affects not only a woman's body: It changes parts of her brain too, a new study says.

When researchers compared brain scans of women before and after pregnancy, they spotted some differences in 11 locations. They also found hints that the alterations help women prepare for motherhood. For example, they might help a mother understand the needs of her infant, Elseline Hoekzema, a study author, explained via email.

Hoekzema is a neuroscientist at Leiden University in the Netherlands who began working on the study while at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain. She and colleagues present the results in a paper released Monday by the journal Nature Neuroscience.

It includes data on 25 Spanish women scanned before and after their first pregnancies, along with 20 women who didn't get pregnant during the study. The brain changes in the pregnancy group emerged from comparisons of those two groups.

The results were consistent: A computer program could tell which women had gotten pregnant just by looking at results of the MRI scans.

And the changes, first documented an average of 10 weeks after giving birth, were mostly still present two years after childbirth. That's based on follow-up with 11 study participants.

Further work showed they're a motherhood thing: No brain changes were seen in first-time fathers.

The women showed no declines on tests of memory.

Based on prior research findings, the researchers think the brain changes happened during pregnancy rather than after childbirth.

What's going on? Hoekzema and colleagues think the differences result from sex hormones that flood the brain of a pregnant woman. In the 11 places, the MRI data indicate reductions in volume of the brain's gray matter, but it's not clear what that means. For example, it could reflect loss of brain cells or a pruning of the places where brain cells communicate, called synapses.

Losing some synapses is not necessarily a bad thing. It happens during a hormonal surge in adolescence, producing more specialized and efficient brain circuits. The researchers suspect that could be happening in the pregnant women.

Some study results hint that such upgrades may prepare a woman for motherhood. One analysis linked brain changes to how strongly a woman felt emotionally attached to her infant. And when women viewed pictures of their babies, several brain regions that reacted the most were ones that showed pregnancy-related change.

In addition, the affected brain areas overlapped with circuitry that's involved in figuring out what another person is thinking and feeling. That's a handy ability for a mother tending to an infant.

The idea of synapses being pruned in pregnancy makes a lot of sense, commented Bruce McEwen of Rockefeller University in New York, who studies hormonal effects on the brain but didn't participate in what he called a terrific study.

"The brain is being shaped all the time," he said, and "sex hormones are part of the whole orchestra of processes that change the brain structurally."


Follow Malcolm Ritter at His recent work can be found at

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Health, AP Health - Women's health
© Copyright 2018
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Revelers say goodbye to a year of conflicts, deadly violence
People around the world are bidding a weary adieu to a year filled with political surprises, prolonged conflicts, deadly attacks at gatherings and celebrity deaths
11:58PM ( 8 months ago )
Get ready for a blockbuster sequel: Alabama vs. Clemson
Get ready for a blockbuster sequel: Alabama vs. Clemson, The Rematch
11:31PM ( 8 months ago )
With Ohio State shutout, Clemson earns another shot at 'Bama
Clemson's redemption: By shutting out Ohio State, the Tigers earn another shot at 'Bama
11:25PM ( 8 months ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Trump says he doesn't trust computers as he rings in 2017
President-elect Donald Trump says that "no computer is safe" when it comes to keeping information private
10:46PM ( 8 months ago )
New UN chief wants consensus but faces antagonistic Trump
Antonio Guterres took the reins of the United Nations on New Year's Day, promising to be a "bridge-builder" but facing an antagonistic incoming U.S. administration led by Donald Trump who thinks the world body's 193 member states do nothing except talk
9:39PM ( 8 months ago )
Revelers say goodbye to a year of deadly violence, conflicts
People around the world are bidding a weary adieu to a year filled with political surprises, prolonged conflicts, deadly attacks at gatherings and deaths of legendary celebrities
9:10PM ( 8 months ago )
AP National News
States re-examine cybersecurity after Russia accused of hack
Several U.S. states are asking cybersecurity experts to re-examine state and utility networks after a malware code U.S. officials say is linked to Russian hackers was found on a Vermont utility's laptop
6:37PM ( 8 months ago )
Revelers bid adieu to a year of conflicts, celebrity deaths
People around the world are bidding a weary adieu to a year filled with political surprises, prolonged conflicts and deaths of legendary celebrities
6:22PM ( 8 months ago )
States re-examine cybersecurity after alleged Russian hack
Several states around the United States are asking cybersecurity experts to re-examine state and utility networks after a malware code was found on a Vermont utility's laptop that U.S. officials say is linked to Russian hackers
6:08PM ( 8 months ago )
AP Online National News
UN backs Russian-Turkish Syria efforts, as cease-fire wavers
The U.N. Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution supporting efforts by Russia and Turkey to end the nearly six-year conflict in Syria and jump-start peace negotiations
1:51PM ( 8 months ago )
Rural New Mexico exports mentoring model for physicians
A mentoring program for physicians in rural areas is being tapped by the federal government to expand access to specialized care
1:41PM ( 8 months ago )
Divers assembled in search for missing plane with 6 aboard
A dive team has been assembled in Cleveland to begin recovery efforts for a small plane that disappeared over Lake Erie near Cleveland's shores carrying six people
12:42PM ( 8 months ago )
Top General short headlines
Obama's last month: 'Obamacare' defense, Chicago speech
President Barack Obama and Democratic lawmakers will meet next week to forge a common strategy to stop Republicans from destroying his signature health care law
2:43PM ( 8 months ago )
Obama's last month: 'Obamacare' huddle, Chicago speech
President Barack Obama will strategize next week with Democratic lawmakers about how to prevent Republicans from destroying his Affordable Care Act
1:36PM ( 8 months ago )
Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth visit patients at kids hospital
Miley Cyrus and her fiancee, Liam Hemsworth, have brought some holiday cheer to patients at a San Diego children's hospital
12:20PM ( 8 months ago )
AP Health
After worry, joy arrives for mother of quintuplets
The new mother of quintuplets kept her excitement in check for the first six months of her pregnancy
6:44PM ( 9 months ago )
Brain changes seen in pregnancy, may help preparing for baby
A new study says pregnancy affects not only a woman's body: It changes parts of her brain too
11:54AM ( 9 months ago )
US women increasingly use pot during pregnancy, study finds
U.S. women are increasingly using marijuana during pregnancy, sometimes to treat morning sickness
11:41AM ( 9 months ago )
AP Health - Women's health
Convicted Ohio Craigslist killer of 3 questions evidence
An Ohio man convicted of killing three down-and-out men lured by fake Craigslist job offers is questioning the strength of the evidence against him
12:12AM ( 23 minutes ago )
Prescott, Cowboys pull away to beat Cardinals 28-17
Dak Prescott threw two touchdown passes and flipped head over heels into the end zone on a 10-yard run for another and the Dallas Cowboys pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat the Arizona Cardinals 28-17
12:11AM ( 25 minutes ago )
Mexican women show resolve in earthquake's aftermath
When a magnitude 7.1 quake struck central Mexico, toppling buildings and leaving hundreds trapped, Mexicans quickly mobilized a mammoth rescue operation of professionals and civilians
12:10AM ( 26 minutes ago )
Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears
Iraqi Kurds have voted in a referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed by Baghdad and regional powers as hostile
12:05AM ( 30 minutes ago )
Mexico still tallying the economic cost of big earthquake
Mexican government officials are still calculating the economic losses of the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that caused widespread damage in the capital, but for the manager of a downtown restaurant it is already all too clear
12:02AM ( 34 minutes ago )