The Effects of Pregnancy on Your Brain
Hello, mom. Today I would like to talk to you about the effects of pregnancy on your brain. My presence will permanently alter your way of thinking and feeling. I will start from the very beginning, so that you understand: from the moment that you and I first come together.
The first thing that happens is that a hormone called progesterone starts to flood through your body, mom. Your breasts get sensitive, but your brain will relax. At the beginning you will notice that you often feel sleepy, and need to rest and eat more than usual.
I’m the reason for those hormones, which stimulate the places in your brain that are responsible for thirst and hunger. Let’s just say that I need to eat! This means you will have to produce a greater volume of blood to make sure I get all the nutrients I need.
Don’t worry, it’s normal that your water bottle is always in your hand, and that you don’t want to go very far from the bathroom. It’s probably the same reason why your brain has cravings for certain foods, or you feel disgusted by certain smells.
Since you don’t want to eat anything that might harm me, many things will disgust you. Sometimes you will even feel nauseous. Don’t be concerned, this is just what the first trimester is like. These changes are normal effects of pregnancy.
You should know that your progesterone level increases tenfold between the second and fourth month of pregnancy, and that its effects are just as potent as an anti-anxiety drug such as Valium. Just think, your brain is flooded with a sedative. So relax – I just want you to protect us both from stress.
At four months
From the fourth month of pregnancy, more or less, your brain will have become used to the hormonal changes. It is likely that you can eat normally now, and might feel a little more anxious.
The conscious and subconscious parts of your brain will be focused on what is happening in your womb, my home. It’s great in here, mom, your belly is a cozy place. I like to listen to your heartbeats and feel your warmth.
But don’t get too comfortable, mom! I want you to know that I am here. So from the fifth month onwards, you’ll likely start to experience what feels like bubbles of gas in your abdomen. You might think it’s just the typical gas that we can get after a meal, but it isn’t.
Your brain already knows this means I am moving. You will start to be aware of my presence. Your brain has changed and enhanced your sense of smell; it has made you hungrier, thirstier. Do you know why? Because of love.
You are already getting to know me. You feel my little kicks, you know when I am moving around. I bet you can’t wait to hold me and look at me. Dad and the other people around you will probably want to look out for my movements, too, and listen to my heartbeat through your belly.
The calming effect of progesterone
The increase in estrogen levels helps us to combat stress hormones while I am inside you, mom. Did you know that both my body and the placenta that protects me produce so much cortisol (a stress hormone), that by the end of the pregnancy your body will be full of it, just as if you had been doing exhausting physical exercise.
However, these hormones will not make you feel stressed, or at least, not in the typical way. What they really do is help you be aware of what you are eating, whether you are in a safe place and if everything around you is all right.
They help you to focus on yourself and on me, and on caring for both of us. The size and structure of your brain can also change. Your brain may shrink a little during the final six months of pregnancy and until birth.
Mom, I shrunk your brain! But don’t worry about it, that will go back to normal too. It’s just working on turning backroads into three lane highways. That is to say, you won’t be losing abilities, but gaining new ones. And before I come out into the world, your brain will be back to its normal size.
As my due date approaches
As my birth approaches, you will start to worry a lot about me. You are probably wondering how we can get through the big moment awaiting us, and hoping we will both come out safe and sound.
So, you will be on high alert. You will waddle like a duck, drawing on your last little bit of strength. I will be born when I’m ready, mom. Don’t expect me to stick to your schedule.
When your water breaks, your brain will flood with oxytocin, making your uterus contract. Your levels of progesterone (that hormone that once sedated us) will drop. The oxytocin and dopamine coursing through your system will create new neuronal connections in your brain.
And then, I will be out and you will meet me for the first time. You will be so exhausted that your vision might be blurry, but your brain will be all ready to love me. As soon as you smell me, feel me and look at me, you will be able to tell me apart from any other baby with astounding accuracy.
Your strength and your will to take care of me will be rooted in your brain forever. You will feel that you could stop a moving truck with your body to protect me. Nothing will stop us now.
You will probably develop greater spatial memory. One of the effects of pregnancy is that you will become more flexible, more efficient and braver – now and for the rest of your life. Your brain has prepared you to love me and keep me by your side.
This is it, mom, this is forever. I hope that now you understand how it is that we love one another so much. It seems like magic, right? Isn’t it wonderful that we can grow together and make each other better and better?
I may not have the words to express it right now, but I will show it with hugs, kisses and a lot of love… after all, I learnt that from the best!