Depending on who is speaking, there are all sorts of reasons to have a baby. You will hear everything from how fulfilled a child makes your life to ‘God wants me to make babies’ to the fallacy that it will make the marriage stronger. So here is another reason to have kids. They make you smarter. Well, first, they make you stupid then they make you smart.
I didn’t know this but they actually have something that they call ‘baby brain’. This is the poor memory, loss of focus and general ditziness that a woman experiences during pregnancy. Like PMS and growing pains, baby brain was one of those things that the medical field discounted as imaginary for years. According to a story in Monitor on Psychology, an American Psychological Association publication, not only does baby brain exist but it is grounded in millions of years of evolution.
Neuroradiologists have found that a woman’s brain shrinks by 4% during their pregnancy with a large volume decrease in the hippocampus. For those of you who are not up on their brain anatomy, the hippocampus is located in the center rear of the brain and is associated with memory and navigation. In Alzheimer’s patients, the hippocampus is the first part to go. So a decrease in that area of the brain explains the ‘where was I going?’ breakdown in the day-to-day of a pregnant woman.
The reason why a woman cannot remember where she was going is because nature has programmed her to sit down and stay put. If you compare us to our ancient cave people ancestors or to our modern day mammal cousins, as the female becomes more vulnerable to attack in her childbearing state, her mind makes it a little bit harder to leave the nest. Luckily, or by design, the male physiology is changing also. One of several studies that explored changes in the mated male looked at marmosets, which co parent their offspring like humans do. During the course of the pregnancy, the testosterone level of the males increased and spiked around birth. In other words, on a hormonal level, men are built to be the most protectively aggressive when the woman is most vulnerable.
The good news is that, after they give birth, women get smarter and these new brains last throughout their lives. Generally speaking, the female mammal gets more efficient in their thought process. Rats that have given birth catch crickets five times faster than virgin rats. Human females wiz through tests to gauge how quickly they can perform day-to-day tasks. Specifically, females report a decrease in fear and anxiety as it relates to taking on the challenges of daily life. For wild primates, that means backing a predator out of their territory. For humans, we can see it in the rapid-fire juggling act that is motherhood.
Happily, daddies get brain benefits from childbirth also. This comes in the form of increased dendritic spine density. The dendritic spine is the part of the nerve that receives information from other nerve cells. Having more of them means that we can receive more information. Increasing dendritic spine density is what is found during intense training sessions, like what an astronaut or an assassin might go through. By the way, a decrease in dendritic spine density is associated with schizophrenia. So, where mommies are becoming machines in their efficiency and fearlessness, daddies are training-up in a way that would rival the Matrix.