The Plasticity of Human Maternal Brain: Longitudinal Changes in Brain Anatomy During the Early Postpartum Period

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.

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