Cortical thickness variation of the maternal brain in the first 6 months postpartum: associations with parental self-efficacy

Abstract

The postpartum period is associated with structural and functional plasticity in brain regions involved in parenting. While one study identified an increase in gray matter volume during the first 4 months among new mothers, little is known regarding the relationship between cortical thickness across postpartum months and perceived adjustment to parenthood. In this study of 39 socioeconomically diverse first-time new mothers, we examined the relations among postpartum months, cortical thickness, and parental self-efficacy. We identified a positive association between postpartum months and cortical thickness in the prefrontal cortex including the superior frontal gyrus extending into the medial frontal and orbitofrontal gyri, in the lateral occipital gyrus extending into the inferior parietal and fusiform gyri, as well as in the caudal middle frontal and precentral gyri. The relationship between cortical thickness and parental self-efficacy was specific to the prefrontal regions. These findings contribute to our understanding of the maternal brain in the first 6 months postpartum and provide evidence of a relationship between brain structure and perceived adjustment to parenthood.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [R01HD090068; R21HD078797]; the Professional Research Opportunity for Faculty (PROF) and Faculty Research Fund (FRF), University of Denver; and the Victoria S. Levin Award For Early Career Success in Young Children’s Mental Health Research, Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD). The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest in the research. The authors thank families who participate in the study and individuals who support recruitment. The authors also wish to acknowledge Amy Anderson, Lindsay Blanton, Christian Capistrano, Christina Congleton, Tanisha Crosby-Attipoe, Andrew Erhart, Victoria Everts, Rachel Gray, Claire Jeske, Laura Jeske, Daniel Mason, and Nanxi Xu for research assistance.

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Correspondence to Pilyoung Kim.

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Kim, P., Dufford, A.J. & Tribble, R.C. Cortical thickness variation of the maternal brain in the first 6 months postpartum: associations with parental self-efficacy. Brain Struct Funct 223, 3267–3277 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-018-1688-z

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Keywords

  • Maternal brain
  • Cortical thickness
  • Parental self-efficacy
  • Postpartum period