- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

When domestic pandemonium prevails, mom brings order, solves arguments and kisses boo-boos.

This knack for calmly sailing through the rigors of parenting is no accident, however. Mothers have cooler heads and better coping skills than nonmothers.

It’s all part of the “maternal brain,” according to Craig Kinsley, a psychologist with the University of Richmond. He has presented his findings in the journal Physiology and Behavior this month.

“Reproduction shapes and alters a female’s brain in significant ways,” he said yesterday.

Essentially, the motherly mind does not tend to dwell on fear or confusion in the face of adversity or challenge. Conditioned by child rearing, mothers tend to look for solutions.

“Mothers are less intimidated because of their reproductive experience,” Mr. Kinsley said.

He based the conclusions on four years of research with female rats who had, well, their little paws full. Mr. Kinsley and his research team found that veteran mother rats were less stressed by a series of lab challenges than females who had never faced a litter of needy babies.

The rats were placed in an open space as well as inside clear plastic tubing in bright light — hair-raising environments for a rat, according to Mr. Kinsley. The researchers found that the momma rats methodically and fearlessly explored the unknown territories, looking for a way out.

The nonmothers froze up or moved with great caution.

In the aftermath, the mother rat’s brains showed less activation of the amydaglia, an area that regulates fear.

“Pregnancy and offspring create a more adaptive brain, one that’s generally less susceptible to fear and stress,” Mr. Kinsley said.

“But what’s most intriguing is that this seems to be a long-lasting effect which persists throughout life,” he added. “It is not temporary.”

Last year, Mr. Kinsley and his team also determined that motherhood “makes women smarter” and helped ward off dementia, thanks to the constructive effects of pregnancy hormones. He was inspired by his wife and her experiences as a new mother.

“Watching her and how her behavior became more efficient during this time got me thinking about the links between maternal behavior and maternal efficiency,” Mr. Kinsley told Reuters news agency last year. “Nature seems to provide the mother with a boost.”

Meanwhile, a calming, nurturing mother also equals a good mother.

Researchers at Canada’s McGill University earlier this year found that mothering styles influence how stressed children become in later years. Again, momma rats led the research.

Those who groomed and licked their babies a great deal produced offspring that appeared less anxious and fearful, and remained that way as they grew older. The babies that got “TLC” also produced lower amounts of stress hormones and had more-regular heartbeats than those who didn’t get such tactile maternal care.

In addition, mothers-to-be should stay calm as their due dates approach.

Endocrinologists have reported a link between maternal stress during pregnancy and a predisposition to either lower birth weight or cardiovascular and metabolic diseases for the child in later years.

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