There is something about women’s brains that turns them into the moms they are. A woman’s emotions seemingly intensify when she becomes a mom. It turns out that there is quite a complex neurological play that brings about the emotional changes, including the most intimate ones, in their babies.
Scientists are increasingly becoming aware of the structure of pregnancy brains. By the way, mothers behave, and how the pattern links to the brain’s regions, scientists have also learned that gray matter becomes more intense and that there is increased activity in regions related to anxiety, empathy, or and social interaction.
The hormones go into overdrive in the days leading up to childbirth. These hormones promote the mother-child bond, which is visible in the unconditional love, zealous protectiveness, and the constant worry about the child. Postpartum, women exhibit anxiety, depression, and obsessive behavior, characterized by checking on the baby’s breath and the heightened sense of hygiene.
Here is how scientists have attempted to explain the brain regions associated with mothering behavior:
- The brain has an almond-shaped bunch of neurons called amygdala that promotes memory and elicits reactions like aggression, fear or anxiety. The amygdala activity intensifies in the weeks leading up to birth. It is the heightened amygdala activity which makes moms super-sensitive to their baby’s needs.
- Mothers have a large amygdala, which is responsible for the mothering behavior.
- The way a mother’s brain is wired might explain why simple acts as staring at her baby can be quite stimulating for her. It is also why mothers coo to their babies, are ever-alert to the needs and security of their babies, and shower babies with overwhelming affection.
- Any harm to the mother’s amygdala can trigger depression.
- Any damage to amygdala could also influence the mother-child bond as testified by a 2004 Journal of Neuroscience study, in which infant monkeys with amygdala lesions had a little likelihood to express their any panic or show a preference to their biological mothers over other adults.
- The amygdala mechanism is also responsible for a mother’s sensitivity to her own child than another baby. A 2011 study on the amygdala response in new mothers showed that they would feel good about photos portraying their own smiling babies than photos of smiling babies of strangers. The brain response was mapped in the amygdala and other regions of the brain as mothers looked at the images of their own babies. The study showed that mothers with higher amygdala response had low anxiety and had elevated moods.
- Amygdala receives hormones into it as it has a high flux of receptors for hormones like oxytocin, which is very active during and after pregnancy. The oxytocin levels increase in women at the very sight of their babies or their baby’s reactions to anything. Also breastfeeding mothers release oxytocin which makes them more receptive to their baby’s cry than non-breastfeeding mothers in the first month after birth.
- Scientists also believe that the brain of a mother behaves a lot like when it when falling in love. The brain regions are especially sensitized, and the dopamine networks help in prioritizing the needs of the infant. The brain circuitry makes the babies smell good to their moms, as suggests a 2013 study.
- It is not clear yet as to whether a woman’s brain goes back to what it was before childbirth. But, the changes are not restricted to new mothers either.
- Women seem to have a layout for caring and mothering behavior even before they become mothers. The imprints become function with becoming a mother.
- Researchers have found that while mothers show their caregiving and affections to their babies through amygdala sensitization, in the case of a human father, there are alternative pathways for adapting to caregiving, which is otherwise more attuned to socio-cognitive patterns.