There's nothing quite like the bond between a mother and her child. Now, recent research suggests that one change during a woman's pregnancy can make that strong connection even more powerful.
A December 2018 study published in Child Development examined 39 pregnant women to find out whether expecting a baby can alter a woman's sensitivity to a little one's facial cues. Researchers instructed the participants to complete a face-processing test, which involved evaluating pictures of happy and sad infants and adults. The women did that same test two times — once while they were pregnant and once after they had given birth. While the participants looked at these images of faces, they also had their brainwaves measured for any changes in activity. The end results varied from mom to mom, but one distinct theme emerged.
Researchers said that moms who showed increased brain activity in response to infant facial cues from pregnancy up until motherhood reported stronger bonds with their own babies than women who didn't have such a strong increase.
"Our findings support the idea that, in the brain, responses to infants' cues change over the course of pregnancy and early motherhood, with some mothers showing more marked changes than others," said study author David Haley, PhD, in a press release. "This variation, in turn, is associated with mothers' reports of their emotional bonds with their babies."
The study also suggests that the transitional period between pregnancy and motherhood is a time of "plasticity" — molding and shaping — in certain parts of an expecting mom's brain. The ability of the brain to change in response to seeing babies in general can potentially lead to these women paying closer attention to baby faces in general and later, forming a closer relationship with her own child.
As we all know, the relationship between a mom and her kid is so vital for the baby's development. Although infants obviously can't communicate with us the same way that older folks can, it's comforting to know that something as small as noticing facial expressions can make such a big difference in the long run.