Scientists find that motherhood causes changes in the brain to make the mother prioritize her baby above all, including drugs
New research from a team of scientists, including Mariana Pereira of psychological and brain sciences, suggests that having a baby causes a mother's brain to change to make the child her top priority. For mothers with drug addictions, this change in the brain can make them prioritize their baby over drugs. This research paves the way for future studies on postnatal mental health and substance abuse.
The power of motherhood can subconsciously programme your brain to put your baby before anything - including drugs - says the scientists at the University of Massachusetts leading the study.
Corresponding author Dr. Mariana Pereira found two specific areas of grey matter that are behind the phenomenon, which she hopes will help women improve their mental health during pregnancy and early motherhood.
“There are powerful tools, such as brain stimulation methods and a technique called chemogenetics that can manipulate the activity of discrete brain structures. These have good translational potential for psychiatric disorders - including drug use,” Dr. Pereira said.
This research has also been eye-opening in beginning to understand and treat addiction.
“There are very limited treatments for addiction. Understanding the brain circuits underlying natural resistance to drug seeking provides critical knowledge that has implications for everyone with a substance use disorder,” Dr. Pereira added.
A woman’s brain goes through multiple changes after giving birth, but perhaps the most interesting changes are in the pre-frontal cortex - which is responsible for the control of both addictions and parenting. It filters and represses multiple streams of information - such as drug-using mothers picking between their new child or drug-seeking.
“Motherhood takes over the brain's decision-making regions to prioritize caring for offspring,” Dr. Pereira explained.
“These findings refine our understanding on how the maternal brain processes information about offspring and cocaine, how this information is integrated to bias decision making, and have implications for the development of intervention strategies to prevent drug relapse in new mothers,” Dr. Pereira said.