How stress can influence brain adaptations to motherhood

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Abstract

Research shows that a woman's brain and body undergo drastic changes to support her transition to parenthood during the perinatal period. The presence of this plasticity suggests that mothers’ brains may be changed by their experiences. Exposure to severe stress may disrupt adaptive changes in the maternal brain and further impact the neural circuits of stress regulation and maternal motivation. Emerging literature of human mothers provides evidence that stressful experience, whether from the past or present environment, is associated with altered responses to infant cues in brain circuits that support maternal motivation, emotion regulation, and empathy. Interventions that reduce stress levels in mothers may reverse the negative impact of stress exposure on the maternal brain. Finally, outstanding questions regarding the timing, chronicity, types, and severity of stress exposure, as well as study design to identify the causal impact of stress, and the role of race/ethnicity are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100875
JournalFrontiers in Neuroendocrinology
Volume60
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Inc.

Keywords

  • Childhood adversity
  • Infancy
  • Maternal brain
  • Parenting
  • Perinatal period
  • Stress

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