How the ‘pregnancy brain’ responds to Covid-19 uncertainty

Reading Time: 2 minutes
On May 6, 2020

I feel like I’m responding to the uncertainty because of Covid-19 differently than I usually would. Could this be ‘pregnancy brain’?

During pregnancy, we may start to think and feel differently to how we did before. Although this is perfectly natural, the differences may feel more pronounced as we go through these uncertain times, and this might feel unsettling. But rest assured, your body has your child’s wellbeing in mind.

Ever since Descartes we’ve got used to thinking about ‘mind over matter’. We less often consider the other way round. Yet communication between the brain and body isn’t a one-way street; traffic (and its influence) flows both ways.

The hormones that surge during pregnancy cause physical changes in the body, so that it can carry and nurture a child. But these physical changes don’t stop at the neck. They happen in the brain as well.

Brain scans taken of first-time mothers before and after pregnancy show a reduction in the grey matter of the brain.

Now, don’t worry, pregnancy doesn’t make us stupid.

In fact, there is an earlier time this happens to all of us, men and women: puberty. The surge in hormones during puberty creates dramatic structural and organisational changes in the brain.

Grey matter is lost as the brain connections that adolescents don’t need are pruned away. We could see this as tidying up and fine-tuning of the brain into its adult form.

In pregnancy, these brain changes are shown to take place in the regions associated with social cognition and particularly the area that helps us to figure out what someone else is thinking and feeling.

Although it’s not fully clear yet why this might be, it’s believed that these changes are making the brain more specialised to help expectant mums prepare for motherhood and have a healthy attachment to their child.

It’s also been seen that during late pregnancy, neurons increase significantly in the part of the brain that largely regulates maternal behaviour. This increase will make Mum more sensitive to her child’s needs and ready to respond appropriately.

The scans have shown that this remodelling of the brain lasts for at least two years after the birth, which just goes to show how amazing our bodies are.

As a new mum, we face different challenges, which require different problem-solving skills. So it’s reassuring to know our brains are getting us ready for the challenge.

Acknowledging that these brain changes are natural and beneficial can really help to feel more at ease in these uncertain times.

If you would like to read more about the effect of hormones on the female brain during pregnancy and how that may influence how you respond in times of uncertainty, click here.

Key sources:

Alison Eason

Alison Eason

Director of Clinical and Creative Development at NISAD

BA(Hons) HPD DipCHyp