moms handle stress best

It appears that “Supermom” has a basis in fact. According to a study published in Physiology and Behavior, neuroscientist Craig Kinsley of the University of Richmond has found that motherhood makes females calmer when provoked and more courageous. Kinsley said he believes that the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy may somehow change the brain to deal with the stresses of being a mother. Studying rats, Kinsley discovered that females who had had at least one litter of pups were less likely than “virgin” females to get upset when provoked. The rat moms were also more likely to explore new environments. Kinsley stressed out his rats by putting them in bright, open rooms with no places to hide and then measured the amount of a brain chemical linked with fear and stress. The rat moms had lower levels of the chemical and also showed less activity in their amygdalas, the fear center of the brain. And while the females who had never had a litter would freeze up in the unfamiliar environment, the rat moms would go exploring. Kinsley told Reuters: “There’s something about pregnancy and subsequent exposure to offspring that create a more-adaptive brain, one that’s generally less susceptible to fear and stress.”

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 11/04/2003.
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