Early Postpartum Brain Morphology – How Pregnancy Changes the Brain

Published On: March 22, 2024Categories: Postpartum

Many people are at least somewhat familiar with the physical changes the body can experience during pregnancy and the early postpartum period. From hormonal fluctuations to changes in blood volume, immune system changes, and everything in between, the transformation of the body during this time is nothing short of remarkable.

Fewer people are aware of the changes in the brain that can occur during pregnancy and the early postpartum period. However, each change has a vital role to play. The brain undergoes significant adaptations that facilitate the transition to infant caregiving and motherhood. In other words, the changes are evolutionarily designed to support the demands placed on the mother after the birth of a child.

How Does the Brain Change in the Early Postpartum Period?

Numerous critical changes take place in various areas of the brain, all in an effort to enhance the ability of the mother to navigate the challenges of parenthood. These changes also promote infant-maternal attachment, create stress-reduction strategies, and facilitate maternal well-being.

Synaptic Pruning

One of the most remarkable changes during this time is called “synaptic pruning.” During this pruning, the brain actually rewires itself, forming new connections that support maternal caregiving. Unnecessary connections between neurons are broken down, and other connections deemed vital for motherhood are made stronger.

It’s the pregnancy hormones at work here, particularly progesterone and estrogen, which fosters neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to reorganize itself and alter neural connections. Brain changes persist well past childbirth and are influenced in part by socioeconomic factors, genetics, and personal interactions.

Regions of the Brain Impacted by Early Postpartum Morphology

Some of the regions of the brain that are impacted by various changes include:

  • The Amygdala: Bonding between infant and mother may be fostered by structural changes in the amygdala that heighten emotional responses to the child’s cues.
  • The Hippocampus: The hippocampus is responsible for learning and memory; it demonstrates dynamic changes during pregnancy and the early postpartum period. These changes assist the mother with remembering and responding to the needs of a newborn.
  • The Frontal Cortex: The volume of the frontal cortex increases, potentially aiding social behavior toward the infant as well as social cues.

Another area of the brain impacted by pregnancy is the pre-frontal cortex. This area is responsible for decision-making, self-control, and planning. Thanks to the plasticity in this brain region, a mother’s ability to carry out caregiving tasks efficiently and prioritize care is fostered.

Other areas impacted during pregnancy and shortly after include the reward system of the brain, which centers around dopamine release. Activating brain areas associated with processing rewards, including the nucleus accumbens, fosters bonding and reinforces maternal behaviors. These changes amplify many mothers’ sense of joy and fulfillment concerning their child despite the challenges of raising that child.

Helping Parents Through Change: Perinatal Therapy in Pasadena

The effects of pregnancy and the early postpartum period extend beyond the immediate newborn phase; motherhood induces changes in the brain that endure, even well beyond child-raising years.

Insights garnered from research influence interventions for postpartum stress and mood disorders while deepening our understanding of human behavior and enhancing support for new parents.

Not all changes are adaptive, and outside factors can impact how changes in the brain influence not only mothers but also their partners, family members, friends, and children. Postpartum mood disorders can occur, but appropriate stress reduction and social support – including perinatal therapy – can improve the well-being of mother and child.

To learn more or to schedule an appointment, reach out to Pasadena Perinatal Therapy today.