Here's What Becoming a Mom Really Does to Your Brain

mom looking off into space

You can't get enough of your newborn's smell. You wake up in the middle of the night and check -- and re-check -- that your baby is still breathing. And you could pick your own child's cry out of a crowd of thousands.

If you've ever felt like you've turned into a totally different person since becoming a mom, well, your mother's instinct is right again! A mother's brain undergoes significant changes, and some as early as pregnancy.

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Here, some of the most fascinating ways your grey matter evolves, thanks to parenthood:

1. You get a little OCD.

Jokes about "mom brain" aside, scientists have found evidence of brain growth in new moms, particularly those involved in empathy, emotion regulation, and what's called "maternal motivation," which -- you guessed it -- could be related to obsessive-compulsive behaviors. (Like the aforementioned frequent checks to make sure your baby is still breathing.)

2. You're more emotional.

For months after your baby is born, your amygdala -- the part of the brain which processes memory and governs emotions like anxiety and fear -- actually grows. Most likely, that's nature's way of making us hyper-vigilant about our baby's needs. One bonus: it may also help buffer us against depression and anxiety.

3. You truly love your baby.

Because oxytocin, a.k.a  "the love hormone," surges in moms during pregnancy, becoming a parent feels like falling in love, scientists say. See? You really can't help all that cooing and gazing at your baby!

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4. You get smarter.

True, maybe you have been walking around all day with a half-eaten bagel in your purse, but scientists have found that moms actually plan better, solve problems more efficiently, and cope better with stress and anxiety.

5. Parenting gives you a high.

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that triggers a "feel good" sensation in your brain, has a hand in the maternal instinct we naturally feel. And that doesn't go away. In fact, one study found that when moms simply see a picture of their child, the reward center of the brain is activated and they feel a "high."

6. Your child truly becomes a part of you.

When you're pregnant, you share nutrients and blood with your child. In return, cells from your child can actually be transferred to you (who knew?) and eventually find their way to your brain. Male DNA (if you carried a boy) can persist throughout the rest of your life. While scientists aren't entirely clear on how its presence affects the brain (save for your newfound love of potty jokes) one theory is that it can actually work to our benefit, shielding for instance, against Alzheimer's disease.

How has your child changed you?


Image © iStock.com/SilviaJansen

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