The Neuroscience of Motherhood

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I had been doing a bit of reading about the 'hidden history' of Mother's Day (so much of the history we uncritically accept is a horribly skewed and blatantly propagandized version of what actually occurred), but I browsed my way to this very interesting article that summarizes some of the recent science regarding the physiological and psychological changes that accompany pregnancy and childbirth. And not just in women, but also men. I found that part especially intriguing since it's generally accepted that any of the symptoms that males experience during their mate's pregnancy are purely psychosomatic.

But are these pre-baby changes only 'sympathetic' in fathers? A 2006 study by neuroscientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that something physiological is actually occurring. In the first nonhuman primate study into this phenomenon, researchers concluded: "it is clear that expectant fathers of these [primate] species are physiologically responsive to their mate's pregnancy and the impending birth. Males need to be prepared to engage in infant care immediately after birth and this requires carrying multiple infants weighing up to 20 percent of their adult body weight. Both the hormonal and the physical weight change suggest that marmoset and tamarin males prepare for the demands of infant care."

Yet the bulk of the article deals with the psychological benefits that females tend to experience as a result of child-rearing. The studies suggest, among other things, that the process precipitates the creation of new neural pathways which generally serve to make mothers 'smarter'. And while the body physically responds to the pregnancy, making the mind more capable of acquiring and retaining new information, the mothers (and perhaps the fathers as well) will also have nearly limitless opportunities to increase their knowledge and skills. Children are undoubtedly an educational experience -- even if they only ask questions. But they don't only ask questions. They're born knowing many things that we, as adults, tend to forget; so they're worth learning from, as well as learning for.

(This is all very interesting to me, along the same lines as another article I recently posted regarding the ways in which one's culture has been shown to physically alter the way our brains work. I tend to relate it all to ecopsychology because I like to look at 'the big picture' and because ecopsychology is honestly dialectical & immediately practical, not pretending to claim the authoritarian (yet apathetic) position of total objectivity. Neuroanthropology is far too specialized and 'detached' even though the research produces some interesting results like the couple of articles I've tagged with 'ecopsychology' so far.)

Link: The Neuroscience of Motherhood -- Vision Media