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For Everyone Who Couldn't Count Change in their Third Trimester

Quick hit from Medical News Today (October 15, 2008):

Researchers in the US found that contrary to the popular view that having children reduces a woman’s brainpower, having children actually improves her lifelong mental agility and protects her brain against the neurodegenerative diseases of old age.

The research was carried out by Dr Craig Kinsley, professor of neuroscience at the University of Richmond, Virginia, and colleagues, and will be presented at the Society for Neuroscience 2008 conference which is to take place from 15 to 19 November in Washington DC.

Kinsley said that while a woman may experience an apparent loss of brain function while she is pregnant, this could be because parts of her brain are being remodelled in preparation for dealing with the complicated demands of childrearing.

“The changes that kick in then could last for the rest of their lives, bolstering cognitive abilities and protecting them against degenerative diseases,” said Kinsley, according to a Times Online report.

A number of studies have reported that women appear to reduce their memory and reasoning ability when they are pregnant. But Kinsley and colleagues suggest this is a temporary result of the remodelling that is going on, which in the long term boosts the woman’s brainpower beyond what she had before she was expecting.

[Read more]


I vaguely remember (I guess that alone is ironic) people posting about this study last year.  Rat and primate mothers were found to be braver, five times more likely to find food and had better spacial ability than their non-mother cohorts.  The generalization made is that mammal moms’ brains are rewired to tend to offspring.

When I read things like this, I always wonder if researchers are secretly trying to pinpoint a physiological justification for the institution of motherhood.  Since mothers have these special nerve cell clusters, they should be the ones to [insert motherly duty] because their brain is wired for it.  Then I take a breath and rest assured that if it is a big patriarchal conspiracy, those biases will be exposed in peer review.

Regardless, I’d be my kids’ primary caregiver anyway for a variety of reasons.  And I am five times more likely than anyone else to drive to Trader Joe’s to find food, so I guess the study’s findings are accurate.

Do you think motherhood makes one braver?  I have always thought that I simply cared less— or rather cared differently— about things that don’t relate to family.  I remember going bananas at work over things and my ready-to-retire, father-of-five boss and Zen master (to me) would remind me to put it all in perspective.  Now that I have children, I don’t believe I would give two turds whether the printer shorted us by 100 copies of a brochure.

I wonder how one’s birth experience ties in.  After unmedicated childbirth, I feel like I can do anything.  Similarly, if a woman can make it through the month of pain following a c-section while taking care of a baby and getting unintentionally kicked in the scar by her bundle of joy, what can’t she do?

Happy Friday, my motherreaders.


Edit: Commenter Rae recommends the book, The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter by Katherine Ellison. 



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Reader Comments (8)

I've always wondered why it is that a human mother with a child is considered to be helpless and in need of societal protections (You know, big strong men coming to the aid of the frightened mother who is clutching her baby while the world burns down around her,) whereas an animal mother with its child (think bears, cows, warthogs, you name it) is considered particularly dangerous and scary. Growing up on a farm we used to tease the cattle. You could get a bull to charge you and then sidestep at the last minute because he would close his eyes. You didn't dare do that to a mother cow, she wouldn't take her eyes of the target and you were toast. I think motherhood probably does make us braver in a chemical sense, but I think society takes that away from us by portraying mothers as helpless when the chips are down.

April 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShotgun_Mary

Oh wow. Yeah. The "delicate state" of pregnancy. I've come to realize that pregnancy and birth are vulnerable times to an extent, which is why pregnant and laboring women should be careful who tends to them in this crucial time. However, I've never viewed pregnancy and motherhood as weakened states, just times that require me to seek out support of friends and trusted loved ones. KWIM?

You just reminded me of a time when I was a kid and I excitedly reached into a dog's pen to pet one of her puppies. She snapped and snarled and bared her teeth so much that her lips enveloped her face.

She also followed around her puppies and ate their crap. I guess she thought I was a predator and might recognize puppy-scented dung.

April 17, 2009 | Registered CommenterJill

Nice article and thoughts!

On the comments section, however, I wanted to say that I love how society takes special care of pregnant mamas and mothers with newborns. I don't see it as demeaning - I see it as incredibly precious, and I think it's wonderfully sweet to see a man help a pregnant mom or treat her specially. It's something worth preserving, as is all chivalrous action. I really don't want to see a society in which men are pushing pregnant women out of the way to reach the lifeboats when the ship's going down. Just a random thought, which may not make any sense anyway - I'm pregnant, LOL!!

Love the blog, Jill! You do an incredible job here! Keep up the great work.

April 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDiana J.

If you haven't read it, I recommend Mommy Brain by Katherine Ellison. I read it a couple of years ago and thought it was fascinating. :)

April 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrae

Motherhood makes me braver, but only when my kids are with me. I have actually growled at a strange man who approached me and tried to touch my child in the stroller. I don't remember it, but my neighbors witnessed it. If my kids are not with me, I tend not to growl near as much!

April 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterReality Rounds

Hi Diana,

Showering a pregnant woman or new mother with love, support, respect and favors is lost in our culture in a lot of ways. The rituals associated with pegnancy are 1) buy plastic stuff for the baby shower, 2) visit baby at hospital, and 3) wait for the mother to send announcements and pictures. I have some theories on why.

We still have to deal with being "mommytracked" at work, unfortunately. Show up for a job interview visibly pregnant and it's probably not going to go as well as you hope. Now pregnant woman can work right up to the day they give birth, but the mothers of today's women of childbearing age were told not to come back to work after a certain point in their pregnancy. My own mother was told not to return to her teaching job the following semester. Granted, she wanted to be home but it's different when you don't have a choice to return to work and support your family financially if needed.

I have them in different categories in my head. I loved all of the people, both friends and strangers, offering to help me when I was pregnant or juggling babies. The patronizing assumption that I wasn't capable or had somehow become deficient bothered me, which is what Mary was saying.

But helping a pregnant woman with her shopping cart or with carrying something... DO IT! Giving up your place in a bathroom line or seat on a bus to a visibly pregnant woman? Always. Don't ask, just move. Dropping off dinner for a family with a new baby... find out if there's anything they don't like, then drop off a meal.

April 18, 2009 | Registered CommenterJill

I know I felt braver after my first child, but bear brave, as in I would fight to the death to protect my baby. I remember reading somewhere that women are also more easily able to effectively multitask, which would make them the more likely candidates to be able to work while watching children, making it safer for the child to be with the more vigilant female.

Last week, on 2 different occasions, I watched while 2 different fathers just left their under 3 year old child on the shopping center playground and evaporated for about 10 minutes. I guess that I was supposed to watch them because I'm a woman and I'm there, but neither one asked me to keep an eye out. The first child became very panicky and started yelling for "Daddy" who ditched his cigarette and came back momentarily to reassure his son, only to duck out for a further 5 minutes. The second child actually left the playground after a few minutes to look for her dad, and yes, I followed after her and convinced her to go back to the playground to wait for her father (since my 12 year old was on hand to make sure my toddlers didn't stray). He appeared again later, and will never know that his daughter was running around a heavily populated shopping center in a state of distress, with all those Strangers, looking for him.

Moral is, women are a lot stronger in so many ways than people acknowledge. Some buy into that crap that girls can't do Math and Science, or shouldn't work, or are too hormonal to ever think straight-especially when gestating, or are made to serve their husbands, etc. I personally think that these beliefs were propagated to keep society in the hands of men, and to undermine our faith in ourselves and in other women. Who better to make decisions for herself and her child than the Woman, who has the best possible outcome in mind? Who better than Mother to teach her children fairness and compassion by practicing these at home? And pregnant women in particular need to be encouraged to ditch their notions of being to delicate and hormonal, and retain their Autonomy.

April 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

RR and Anon, I, too, have gone 'fight or flight' when it comes to my kids. Some dads I know are totally in tune with their kids, but I still think we moms tend to have eyes in the back of our heads more often than they. I'm sure there's a study to back that up somewhere.

April 19, 2009 | Registered CommenterJill
This blog is all done!
Thanks for wanting to comment. This is an archive of a blog that once was. Take care! Jill