New mothers often report feeling that motherhood has permanently changed them. They feel more attune to their child’s needs, more connected. Now, science is actually proving the biological basis for these feelings. A mother’s body and her brain are actually biologically changed in the process of motherhood.
Many new mothers say they cannot explain the immense love and depth of connectedness when they see their newborns for the first time. Now, scientists are shedding more light on the science behind motherhood. In a recent Smithsonian Magazine article entitled “The New Science of Motherhood,” Abigail Tucker details some of the biological changes during new motherhood.
For example, there is “peripartum cardiomyopathy,” in which women can experience sudden onset heart failure solely due to being pregnant. Up to 50% spontaneously remit, which is shocking for a syndrome as severe as heart failure. How can this be?
Dr. Hina Chaudry, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai, has found that fetal cells can actually migrate to a mother’s damaged heart and help with regrowth and repair. Chaudry says, with actual DNA from their babies implanted in them, mothers are like “chimeras”—a mythological creature with a combination of different animal body parts! Scientists are finding these migratory fetal cells in other organs as well, showing that mothers are like mosaics of their progeny.
Similarly, major changes are happening inside the maternal mind during motherhood. Interestingly, mothers with three or more children are less likely to suffer from dementia. Also, it has been found that first time mothers are most at risk for their first bipolar episode in the first month of motherhood. Obviously, changes are going on in the maternal brain.
A prime example is how a mother responds to her child’s pain. Researchers suggest a hormone called oxytocin could be at play. Oxytocin is a hormone known to be pivotal for bonding and love connections. Robert Froemke at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, is studying mice with no children who have had a gene for oxytocin turned on in the lab setting. With oxytocin turned on, these childless mice began to react to crying pups in the same way mother mice did, suggesting oxytocin is crucial to the development of the maternal bond. It’s consistent with mothers becoming “hardwired” to respond to their children’s pain.
Motherhood changes mothers, in more ways than one. A mother’s body and mind is no longer her own. While this is a beautiful process, at CalPsychiatry we are also well aware of the stresses that motherhood can bring. Whether you are struggling with new onset anxiety symptoms or wondering if the baby blues are turning into postpartum depression (learn more about the difference), we want to help. Many of our physicians have a particular focus in maternal mental health and can help you get back on track. A healthy brain is of the utmost importance for mothers, so let us help you on your journey to wellness! Call or book your free consultation today.