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  • A woman's uterus grows to over 500 times its normal size during pregnancy.

  • But not all changes are visible.

  • In fact, some of the biggest changes happen in her brain.

  • When a mother sees her newborn for the first time, it's love at first sight, literally.

  • That's because once she gives birth, core regions of her brain's reward network kick in.

  • They signal the release of feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin into her blood, which immediately triggers a strong connection of love and devotion to her newborn.

  • In fact, studies show that recent mothers have similar levels of oxytocin as romantic couples who are newly in love.

  • And human moms aren't alone here.

  • Scientists discovered that rodents got a bigger kick of dopamine from feeding their pups than from receiving injections of cocaine.

  • What's more, brain scans reveal that a human mom has a similar experience when she sees her infant smiling.

  • But it's a different story when her baby is crying.

  • Those cries activate a network in the mom's brain known as the emotion regulation network.

  • It includes the prefrontal and cingulate control systems, which help control her emotions.

  • And that's important, since it can be easy to lose your temper when you're running on very little sleep and are distressed by the baby's cries.

  • And while motherhood can be exhausting, new moms are actually more alert than normal thanks to their brain's salience network.

  • Scientists think giving birth activates this network to help a mother detect threats and protect her infant from harm.

  • Especially in dangerous situations when that network can help ramp up adrenaline.

  • But on a daily basis, Mom needs to understand her newborn's needs.

  • To accomplish that, she uses empathy, which comes from her brain's social network.

  • It involves the insula and amygdala, which researchers found became more active when moms looked at photos of their babies in distress compared to neutral photos.

  • But it's not just the mom's brain that changes.

  • Research shows that a dad's brain releases oxytocin when he interacts with his baby, too.

  • This is often accompanied by a surge of another hormone, prolactin.

  • It's often called the milk hormone because it triggers the production of breast milk.

  • But men can produce it, too, and researchers have found that dads who frequently played with their babies had higher prolactin levels in their blood than fathers who didn't.

  • They were also more responsive to their baby's cries.

  • So, in the end, having a child is a big change.

  • Not just for your lifestyle, for your brain, too.

A woman's uterus grows to over 500 times its normal size during pregnancy.

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B1 UK brain network oxytocin newborn mom giving birth

How Giving Birth Changes Your Brain

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    Ginger Liu posted on 2019/07/19
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