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.
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.