Do Pregnancy-Induced Brain Changes Reverse? The Brain of a Mother Six Years after Parturition


Background: Neuroimaging researchers commonly assume that the brain of a mother is comparable to that of a nulliparous woman. However, pregnancy leads to pronounced gray matter volume reductions in the mother’s brain, which have been associated with maternal attachment towards the baby. Beyond two years postpartum, no study has explored whether these brain changes are maintained or instead return to pre-pregnancy levels. The present study tested whether gray matter volume reductions detected in primiparous women are still present six years after parturition. Using data from a unique, prospective neuroimaging study, we compared the gray matter volume of 25 primiparous and 22 nulliparous women across three sessions: before conception (n = 25/22), during the first months of postpartum (n = 25/21), and at six years after parturition (n = 7/5). We found that most of the pregnancy-induced gray matter volume reductions persist six years after parturition (classifying women as having been pregnant or not with 91.67% of total accuracy). We also found that brain changes at six years postpartum are associated with measures of mother-to-infant attachment. These findings open the possibility that pregnancy-induced brain changes are permanent and encourage neuroimaging studies to routinely include pregnancy-related information as a relevant demographic variable.

Martínez-García 2020