The long and short term effects of motherhood on the brain

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2019 Apr;53:100740. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2019.02.004. Epub 2019 Feb 28.


Becoming a mother is associated with dramatic changes in physiology, endocrinology, immune function, and behaviour that begins during pregnancy and persists into the postpartum. Evidence also suggests that motherhood is accompanied by long-term changes in brain function. In this review, we summarize the short (pregnancy and postpartum) and long-term (beyond the postpartum and into middle age) effects of pregnancy and motherhood on cognition, neuroplasticity, and neuroimmune signalling. We also discuss the effects of previous history of pregnancy and motherhood (parity) on brain health and disease (neurodegenerative diseases and stroke outcomes) and on efficacy of hormone and antidepressant treatments. Finally, we argue that pregnancy and motherhood are unique female experiences that need to be taken into account to better understand female brain function and aging.

Keywords: Cognition; Hippocampus; Microglia; Neurodegenerative disorders; Neurogenesis; Neuroinflammation; Neuroplasticity; Parity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mothers*
  • Neurogenesis / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Postpartum Period / physiology*