Tag Archives: Physical Changes

Pregnancy Brain Is A Real Thing*

This is her brain. This is her brain on pregnancy.

When we were pregnant (and, if you’ve read that nearly-a-bestselling-book A Dude’s Guide to Babies: The New Dad’s Playbook, you’ll know it’s a two-person event, pregnancy), we liked to refer to it as PIS, or pregnancy-induced senility.

That way, she could say she PISed off and we could laugh when she locked her keys inside the car in line at the car wash and I had to leave work to come rescue her because she was crying and upset. It was that or start screaming my own self and that would have been a bad idea.

Hell might have no fury like a woman scorned, but even they run in fear of pregnant women. And it’s not simply because of the wacky hormones running amok in their bloodstream. But that is a post for another day.A woman's brain really does change during pregnancy, but I'm pretty sure that would be a bad thing to mention to an actual pregnant woman. Because pregnancy also does wacky things to their emotional lability.

What my wife, known to me as She Who Must, While Pregnant, Be Getting What She Wants So That I Might Be Allowed To Continue My Miserable Existence, and I called PIS also is known as pregnancy brain. There are those who say it is a myth.

They are, according to science, very much wrong. Pregnancy brain is real. However, it’s more than merely pregnant women forgetting stuff.

“Pregnancy brain” definitely exists, but it may not be as negative as you think. In fact, it can make you more perceptive of other people’s emotions, according to new research presented at British Psychological Society Annual Conference in the U.K. 

Pregnant women were more sensitive to facial emotion in all of the pictures, which could mean that the right hemisphere of their brains (the one usually responsible for recognizing visual emotion) was more active in them than in new moms, meaning they could process emotion from all angles. This might be the body’s way of preparing a soon-to-be mom to be more responsive to a baby once it’s born.

But, I hear you calling**, dude! That has nothing to do with putting a box of cereal away in the fridge. True, but this does.

One meta-analysis of 14 studies in 2007 found some evidence of memory impairments in pregnant women, though the findings weren’t totally consistent. Another 2010 study says that hormonal changes during pregnancy can affect your memory of spatial locations, but the research only looked at less than 50 women. 

All of which goes to show that, while pregnancy does make some demonstrable physical changes to a woman’s brain, we can’t say with certainty that it’s what causes her to forget stuff, to lose stuff, to become absent minded, to get mixed up with simple directions or any of that stuff.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say, even with conclusive scientific evidence to back you up, it’s probably a good idea to not mention any of the negative stuff that might have something to do with pregnancy brain.

If you’re not able to simply turn and run (which, oddly, seems to be my most frequently offered bit of advice for dudes dealing with pregnant women), I think your best bet would be to say that, yes, pregnancy does change a woman’s brain.

But it’s for the good. Pregnant brains are actually changing so moms-to-be can better bond with the little dude or little dudette.

Then turn and run.

Footnotes & Errata

* But don’t think that gets you off the hook for even considering the possibility of maybe mentioning it. Sort of like saying the word menopause when talking to ladies of a certain age. Not a good idea.

** But I’d better not hear you call me Beth. (Wow, that was an obscure and very old joke.)

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Big Changes Coming Sooner

When young dudettes start to mature and head toward puberty, the results can be strikingly obvious. How many young girls have had to endure the ridicule associated with suddenly having larger breasts, while the majority of children in her middle school are still relatively undeveloped? Far too many.

In 1997, a study was published that suggested young girls were beginning to go through puberty at a younger age than during previous decades. There was, to put it mildly, a lot of hoopla about the whole thing.

Now, here’s the deal. When young dudes start heading toward puberty, they’ve also got something that gets bigger. However, it’s normally not noticeable by parents or doctors or even the young dudes themselves. I’m talking about their testicles.

Young para-pubescent boys can look forward to a subtle testicular enlargement as a prelude to puberty. Here’s the kicker, though. That subtle enlargement? The immediate precursor to puberty? It’s starting to happen to young dudes as early as age 10.

Dr. Marcia E. Herman-Giddens, one of the lead authors on both the 1997 study on girls and the 2012 study on boys, said that, on average, boys are hitting puberty between six months and two years than they used to do.

All right, sure. It’s not the end of the world.

However, the physical changes aren’t the only thing that happens when a dude or dudette hits puberty. There also are some staggeringly significant emotional changes that begin to happen. We’re talking serious emotional whiplash, moodiness, an unexpected and unaccustomed sexual urge. . . It’s all pretty confusing.

And, if this is beginning to happen to even younger boys, then we seriously need to be on the lookout for this. We need to understand, as parents or teachers or, really, anyone who works with younger dudes, their brains might already be sloshing around in a potent witch’s brew of testosterone and other hormones.

Young dudes are light on the forethought at the best of times. Under the influence of testosterone? Fuggitabootit.

Although the effect has been documented, it’s not certain what the cause of the decrease in age for onset of puberty might be. Obesity, chemicals in the environment, diet changes. . . All of these have been suggested, but no one is sure.

It’s nothing I’m going to solve, but I did think it was important that we get this out to people. You dudes have kids. You know people who have kids. Get talking about it. Make sure our young dudes don’t suffer because we didn’t know or at least suspect what they were going through.

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Your Brain Is Still On Love

by Richard

The love drug is more than just a slang name for the already slangy Spanish Fly. (Dude, does that date me.) Love acts just like any other drug in that it can cause your brain chemistry to change, which, in turn, forces your emotions to change and alters your behavior.

The only difference is that you can’t get love in a pill. Yet.

So, we’re talking about love and all the stuff it can do to you. This conversation got started when I read a nice opinion piece by Diane Ackerman in the New York Times the other day. Some good stuff.

As imaging studies by the U.C.L.A. neuroscientist Naomi Eisenberger show, the same areas of the brain that register physical pain are active when someone feels socially rejected. That’s why being spurned by a lover hurts all over the body, but in no place you can point to. Or rather, you’d need to point to the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in the brain, the front of a collar wrapped around the corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibers zinging messages between the hemispheres that register both rejection and physical assault.

Whether they speak Armenian or Mandarin, people around the world use the same images of physical pain to describe a broken heart, which they perceive as crushing and crippling. It’s not just a metaphor for an emotional punch. Social pain can trigger the same sort of distress as a stomachache or a broken bone.

And that’s just social anxiety. Imagine the feeling magnified many-fold when it’s rejection by the person you love. Of course, there’s also the reverse, in that the feeling of joy you experience when you’re loved and in love is something amazing and wonderful. It also can act as a painkiller.

James Coan, a neuroscientist at the University of Virginia, conducted experiments in 2006 in which he gave an electric shock to the ankles of women in happy, committed relationships. Tests registered their anxiety before, and pain level during, the shocks.

Then they were shocked again, this time holding their loving partner’s hand. The same level of electricity produced a significantly lower neural response throughout the brain. In troubled relationships, this protective effect didn’t occur. If you’re in a healthy relationship, holding your partner’s hand is enough to subdue your blood pressure, ease your response to stress, improve your health and soften physical pain. We alter one another’s physiology and neural functions.

To me, that’s the most amazing thing about love: that a simple emotion can actually make physical changes in our bodies. A feeling can change the mechanism by which the feeling itself is generated. That’s pretty cool stuff, dudes.

You know? Wait. I lied. That isn’t the most amazing thing. The most amazing thing is that I am in loved and am loved.


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