Matrescence: Brain Changes During Motherhood

matrescence

It is at least curious to think that, in the course of history, countless resources of all kinds have been invested in studying a wide variety of topics. However, if we stop to reflect on how much we know about what happens to women during pregnancy and motherhood, we see that there is hardly any scientific evidence.

Regardless of whether we are mothers or not, we all come from a mother. Furthermore, it is likely that at some point in our lives we will have a woman who will become a mother around us. Precisely because motherhood is something that affects the entire society, it is essential to be able to understand what happens in this process.

In this article we will see what the concept matrescence refers to. In addition, we will delve into the changes that occur in a woman’s brain during pregnancy, both at a structural and functional level, and we will see what impacts it generates on them and how long they last.

What is matrescence?

The first time the term “matrescence” was used was in 1973. Anthropologist Dana Raphael used it to describe the transition process that women live and experience in the process of becoming mothers.

The author compared it with the profound changes that occur in adolescence on a biological, social and psychological level in order to highlight the complexity of this process. Dana Raphael defended the strong impact that motherhood has on women and her contribution has subsequently been used by many psychology professionals.

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Being able to give a name to this transition has made it possible to give visibility to its importance and, little by little, to promote study and research in this field. It is important to understand what situations can occur naturally in the matrescence process so as not to fall into pathologization.

Besides, The work that many women do to make the term known is also serving to begin to establish a change of consciousness at a social level. Most mothers are currently experiencing their transition alone and without a support network that can accompany them, understand the changes they are experiencing and/or address their needs.

Structural changes in the brain

Dr. Susana Carmona, along with her team, is one of the pioneers in the study and research of the matrescence process. However, it is still surprising that these types of studies did not begin to be carried out until 2017, the date on which they shared their first results.

It is undeniable that there is still a lot of literature on the subject, but some of the main changes that have been observed in neuroimaging studies that have been carried out in recent years are mentioned below. The results presented below are considered specific to pregnancy.

Volume

The results obtained reveal significant reductions in the volume of gray matter in some specific areas of the brain of pregnant women. It is important to understand that this does not imply a cognitive deficit but rather the adaptation of the brain to the new role of women.

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Regions

It was observed that the main brain areas or regions affected were those related to social cognition. This allows an improvement in certain skills such as empathy and the ability to interpret the baby’s needs.

Plasticity

During pregnancy, women’s brains are actually plastic. This fact implies greater ease in adapting and reorganizing both during pregnancy and in the postpartum period that follows.

Hormonal changes and the brain

Hormones, as shown in the studies carried out, play a crucial role in the changes that occur during matrescence. This, without a doubt, also has effects on the brain.

Mainly highlights the importance of hormones such as estrogen, oxytocin and prolactin. The changes produced in the brain contribute to the emotional connection with the baby. In addition, they promote caring and protective behaviors and facilitate the transition process to motherhood by increasing empathy and social cognition.

Functional changes in the brain

With everything explained so far, it is expected that all the changes mentioned at a hormonal and structural level will generate changes in certain brain functions. These changes occur with the purpose of, once again, facilitating the transition.

Below are some of the main functional changes observed:

Impact of changes during pregnancy

As has been explained throughout the article, there are many changes that women experience at different levels in the process of transition to motherhood. The studies carried out show that the changes observed at the brain level are maintained at least two years after the birth of the baby.

The little existing evidence—in human mothers, because it is true that with other animal species there is a little more information available—points to the fact that These changes make it easier for women to adapt to the needs that motherhood and parenting present.

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Although it is true that in this article we have focused on the changes scientifically observed at the brain level, we cannot forget that we are truly complex beings. That is, the differences produced at the brain level can have an impact on other areas of the person’s life.

In this sense, it is important that we connect with the importance of being able to accompany women taking into account the processes they are experiencing and the new needs that may arise. The role of the environment is crucial during matrescence and the puerperium.