Mommies are better thinkers

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: April 18th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

New mothers sometimes think their minds are becoming as mushy as a spoonful of pureed peas.

Middle-of-the-night feedings, soggy diapers and crying fits may not seem intellectually stimulating to most new mommies. But new research shows that the endless tasks of caring for a needy newborn could actually sharpen mothers’ minds.

Two Virginia researchers discovered that motherhood triggers a brain change in rats. New links form in the brain to improve awareness and boost a mommy rat’s memory, giving her a food-finding advantage. With a bustling nest and hungry mouths to feed, the mommy rat must to learn to multitask so she can gather food and return quickly to defend her babies from attack.

The onslaught of hormones that flood the body during pregnancy and early motherhood helps explain some of the changes. Certain pregnancy hormones activate neurons in the part of the brain responsible for turning information into memory. These neurons form synapses that allow the brain to build more information-sharing circuits.

The researchers say the experience of caring for a baby plays a role, too. Rats that took care of adopted babies showed some of the same mental changes as rats that gave birth.

Studies have yet to show if motherhood produces the same mental changes in human moms. But the idea is the subject of a recent book, which claims motherhood makes women sharper and more efficient.

Maybe what your mom always said is true. Maybe moms just are smarter people.