Sydney, Mar 19 : You might be making losing your night sleep to the task of changing diapers, but mommyhood is actually good for the brain, as it makes mums braver, faster and less stressed says a new US research.
The finding, presented at this week's International Congress on Women's Mental Health in Melbourne, states that motherhood causes neurological changes that make 'good' mothers.
Craig Kinsley, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Richmond's Department of Psychology, said that all female mammals change some of their critical behaviours after giving birth. These are normally behaviours that are linked to a mother's ability to care and protect her offspring.
In tests on rats young mothers showed better maze negotiation skills and memory, and decreased levels of stress and fear.
"Mothers become more protective of their offspring and will defend against a predator twice their size," ABC Online quoted Kinsley, as saying.
"They overcome their fear and are very capable of defeating the predator," he added.
His studies show that these improvements in behaviour last a lifetime, remaining with the rat mothers for up to 26 months, the human equivalent of being in your late 80s.
Kinsley said that his research suggests that the improved behaviours are due to the large hormonal fluctuations that occur during pregnancy and lactation.
These cause major changes to parts of the brain, particularly the hippocampus, which is where long-term and new memories reside.
"When you learn something your brain changes. Neurones form new proteins that represent that new experience in your brain," he said.
The neuroscientist has tracked these changes by measuring brain activity, particularly in the hippocampus, through a range of techniques including gene expression differences.
He said motherhood makes the brain more 'plastic' and flexible, enabling it to respond to the demands of survival.
Kinsley points to one example where a mother rat's predatory prowess in catching a cricket was shown to be far superior to a virgin rat.
"There was a significant enhancement to the nursing mother's vision. She was faster, more efficient at catching prey and was a very potent predator. It's something nature has given to mothers to help them catch the food they need to keep infants alive," Kinsley said.
Kinsley said that if females with a deficit of a critical neurochemical, such as oxytocin, can be identified, then "when they are first interacting with the baby you can give them a boost of oxytocin at a critical time".