The plasticity of human maternal brain: Longitudinal changes in brain anatomy during the early postpartum period

Pilyoung Kim, James F. Leckman, Linda C. Mayes, Ruth Feldman, Xin Wang, James E. Swain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

321 Scopus citations

Abstract

Animal studies suggest that structural changes occur in the maternal brain during the early postpartum period in regions such as the hypothalamus, amygdala, parietal lobe, and prefrontal cortex and such changes are related to the expression of maternal behaviors. In an attempt to explore this in humans, we conducted a prospective longitudinal study to examine gray matter changes using voxel-based morphometry on high resolution magnetic resonance images of mothers' brains at two time points: 2-4 weeks postpartum and 3-4 months postpartum. Comparing gray matter volumes across these two time points, we found increases in gray matter volume of the prefrontal cortex, parietal lobes, and midbrain areas. Increased gray matter volume in the midbrain including the hypothalamus, substantia nigra, and amygdala was associated with maternal positive perception of her baby. These results suggest that the first months of motherhood in humans are accompanied by structural changes in brain regions implicated in maternal motivation and behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-700
Number of pages6
JournalBehavioral Neuroscience
Volume124
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2010

Keywords

  • Brain structure
  • Maternal behavior
  • Maternal brain
  • Neuroimaging
  • Postpartum

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