Rodent research suggests that pregnancy, motherhood and attendant offspring care affect changes in neural function and behaviors that are not directly maternal in nature, but involve cognition, affect, and responses to stress. Thus, female rats having had one pregnancy and bout of rearing (primiparous), or multiple pregnancies and bouts of rearing (multiparous), generally show greater resilience to stress, decreased anxiety, and better memory abilities than female rats that have never experienced motherhood (virgin or nulliparous). Moreover, some studies show that these neural changes remain long after the last pregnancy, persisting even into old age. In the current review, we will begin by discussing these behavioral and neural changes in rodents and provide some information concerning their possible mechanisms. Then we will review data from studies examining anxiety and cognition in postpartum human mothers. While this data is less conclusive than that from non-human animals, it appears that reproductive experience may confer some beneficial changes to human mothers in terms of lowering the anxiety/stress response and enhancing certain aspects of memory.
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