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Most of these changes remained two years after giving birth, at least into the babies’ toddler years. And the more pronounced the brain changes, the higher mothers scored on a measure of emotional attachment to their babies.

“Just fascinating,” said Dr. Ronald E. Dahl, director of the Institute of Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. He said the researchers’ interpretation that changes in the brain enhance women’s maternal responses is “provocative, and I think it’s likely to be true.”

In the study, researchers scanned the brains of women who had never conceived before, and again after they gave birth for the first time. The results were remarkable: loss of gray matter in several brain areas involved in a process called social cognition or “theory of mind,” the ability to register and consider how other people perceive things.

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Image: By Robert Whitehead – Danielle & Lilliyan Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2142771

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