Dr. Adam Franssen, assistant professor of biology, waded into Reddit to talk about his ongoing research into changes in the brain that benefit mothers during pregnancy and parenthood.

Answering varied questions (and coining a phrase at the same time…”space cadet-ery” anyone?), Franssen’s Science AMA (ask me anything) peaked at No. 7 on the front page of Reddit.  Without further ado, here are 7 things we learned from the AMA:

1. Think of a mom’s brain as a highway under construction.

What a lot of people refer to as “mommy brain” is a real thing–because moms’ brains are restructuring themselves to be great mothers.

“You might think of this restructuring as construction on a highway,” said Franssen. “Workers are out there expanding existing lanes, adding new lanes, improving on/off ramps, etc. Once construction is complete, the road is great, but DURING construction…ugh; congestion, delays, detours!”

He added, “I think that brain ‘construction’ is what leads to forgetfulness and other space cadet-ery during pregnancy.” Who knew “space cadet-ery” was a phrase?

Read Franssen’s full response on Reddit

Highway under construction

2. Want to see improved mom brains in action? Hit the store.

“A number of studies have shown that mother rats exhibit greater spatial memory (e.g., where’s that food source again?) and non spatial memory (e.g., have you seen this before?), and are better at ancillary maternal behaviors such as increased boldness and improved foraging speed/efficiency,” said Franssen.

As an analogy for foraging in humans, Franssen likes to use shopping at the grocery store. You can see that efficiency in action through a little people watching, comparing the moms and non moms.

Read Franssen’s full response on Reddit

Mom in grocery store

3. More kids doesn’t mean more long-term benefits.

If having a child benefits a mom’s brain, wouldn’t having lots of kids make a mom a super genius? Not according to Franssen, but an added “boost” can be gained temporarily during pregnancy and nursing when it comes to memory tasks.

Read Franssen’s full response on Reddit

Mom holding two kids

4. It works for foster parents, too.

Brains start to change even if they didn’t get the pregnancy kick start, said Franssen. “The biological parents had the best performance on the spatial memory test, then the foster females and finally the non moms.”

Read Franssen’s full response on Reddit

Smiling foster family

5. Don’t forget about dad.

There may not be a thing called “daddy brain,” but having kids around imparts some of the same benefits to other primary caregivers that moms naturally enjoy.

Read Franssen’s full response on Reddit

Dad reading to children

6. Don’t be fooled: “mommy brain” is a real thing.

The improvements that happen in moms’ brains are mostly related to improved care for offspring. Those typical “mommy brain” characteristics–forgetfulness, the inability to do seemingly routine tasks–may actually be caused by the brain restructuring itself.

“The good news is that, since the brain is so plastic or flexible, chances are that decreased cognitive abilities can be recovered,” said Franssen.

Read Franssen’s full response on Reddit

Mommy Brain Quote:

7. He loves the Lancers.

[Construction, grocery store, diverse family, and dad photos courtesy of Shutterstock]

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