Pregnancy and The Brain

New research has wonderful news for pregnant women but unfortunately it also has news that is no so good. The wonderful news is that pregnancy increases brain power in expectant moms. The not-so-good news is that stress can take mother and child in the opposite direction.  Stress hormones can cross over into the fetus and affect the brain of the child.  Additionally, stress hormones can shrink the mother’s neural networks that generate the higher order brain function that make her smart.  Happily, there is something that can be done about it to insure that all goes well for mother and child.

The Good News

It was once thought that pregnancy caused a woman to lose brain power.  Not so.  A new research study involving more than 2,500 women over ten years has found that brainpower not only doesn’t decline during pregnancy; it appears to actually increase, producing a permanent improvement in brain function. The study found significant increases in mental acuity and memory in women during pregnancy and after childbirth. Even husbands show increased mental performance and empathy, although not to the same degree (Kinsley and Lambert, 2009).

Pregnant women have long been the butt of a demeaning stereotype. It paints a picture of a hormonal mess of a woman, charmingly stupid and erratic, turning every day into an episode of  I Love Lucy.  “Placenta brain” is the common term used to describe this stereotype; some in medical science call it “maternal amnesia.” It’s another in that long list of stereotypes that doesn’t hold up to examination. When researchers challenged the stereotype they found evidence of cultural prejudice toward a pregnant woman. Sara Corse at the University of Pennsylvania had MBA students interact with a manager they were told was pregnant. In reality, she was really a research assistant pretending to be pregnant.

The students who related to the ‘manager’ as pregnant gave her more negative ratings than the control group that had no notion of her being pregnant. The deceived students viewed the “pregnant manager” as passive or erratic, not as a leader deserving respect.

The Not-So-Good News

Stress is bad news for mother and child during pregnancy.  When large amounts of the stress hormone cortisol reach the fetal brain, it can cause structural and functional changes that are not good. New research (Weinstock-Rosin, 2008; Monk, 2010) shows that the offspring of stressed mothers during pregnancy were later shown to have impaired learning and memory abilities, attention-deficit, less capacity to cope with adverse situations and symptoms of anxiety and depressive-like behavior, as compared to unstressed mothers.  There is evidence that stress during pregnancy may even be a factor in autism and schizophrenia.

Here’s What You Can Do About It

It turns out that, biologically, a peaceful attitude is the path to the best outcome. The more peaceful you are during pregnancy, the more your child’s brain will grow in the positive ways that assure the good life you envision for him or her.  As a number of studies have shown over the last decade (Davidson, 2001) a dynamically peaceful attitude is a prescription for an amazing brain – for mother as well as child.

Click here for the full article that also contains a set of tools that can help expectant moms and dads sustain the dynamically peaceful attitude that grows a healthy baby.

One thought on “Pregnancy and The Brain

  1. Lorraine Specht

    I signed up and with each weeks’ classes came a new and more profound realization of how stress had carved a very deep furrow on my life and my decisions. Truthfully, I would have said that I was already aware of what stress was doing to me and I was dealing with that as best I could. But each week brought me in touch with ever more awareness of the effects stress was still causing and succinct and profoundly easy ways to obliterate the toll that stress was having on my life mentally and physically.

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