Pregnancy Changes the Brain in More Ways Than We Knew

'WSJ:' Neuroscientist volunteers herself for study, resulting in first-of-its-kind discoveries
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted May 19, 2024 5:00 PM CDT
Pregnancy Changes the Brain in More Ways Than We Knew
Dr. Liz Chrastil offered up her own brain for research during a planned pregnancy.   (Getty / Sutthicha Weerawong)

When Dr. Liz Chrastil was ready to begin in vitro fertilization, she realized becoming pregnant could also serve as a data goldmine. The Wall Street Journal walks through the cognitive neuroscientist's decision to sign herself up for a one-woman research study that resulted in groundbreaking insights on how pregnancy affects the brain. In collaboration with neuroscientist Emily Jacobs of the University of California, Santa Barbara, the research entailed scanning Chrastil's brain via MRI 26 times throughout her pregnancy—three weeks prior to conception, about every two weeks while carrying, and periodical check-ins for two years after childbirth. As it turns out, the changes to Chrastil's brain as detailed in a preprint at bioRxiv were "profound," writes Jo Craven McGinty in the Journal.

  • Shrinks: Gray matter decreased in volume and the cerebral cortex thinned, causing total brain volume to shrink. Gray matter makes up the cortex and influences processes like emotion, reasoning, and language, the story explains.
  • But grows stronger: Meanwhile, the brain's white matter, which transmits connections between brain cells, grew stronger—a phenomenon never before observed.
  • Takeaway: "The findings are the first to reveal the dramatic changes that occur in a woman's brain across pregnancy and suggest that the adult brain experiences extensive remodeling throughout life," writes Craven McGinty. One theory is that a woman's brain structure changes as the mom-to-be establishes a bond with her child.
  • Next: Jacobs hopes to recruit more women to establish a database of such changes. "My guess is we'll be doing this for the next 10 years," she says.
  • Read the full story.
(Scientists think they know what causes morning sickness.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.