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Making Sense of Mommy Brain

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Instead, the top priority is the baby. The shift from selfish singleton to
selfless parent is dramatic, especially in rodents. Before a female rat
becomes pregnant, the smells and sounds of pups repulse her. As soon as she
gives birth, though, her newborns become her obsession. Given the choice
between being with her babies or having free access to cocaine, she’ll pick
her pups — at least until they’re big enough to hold their own. Plus, a
brain region associated with addiction — the nucleus accumbens — is more
activated by her pups than it is by the addictive drug. “It never ceases to
amaze me that this shift has happened where [mother rats] are more
interested in and almost addicted to another animal,” says Lambert.


I wonder if that’s my problem. I feel like I’m hooked on my daughter; it’s
hard to focus on work or other tasks because I’m busy thinking about her,
her needs, and if I’m doing this Mommy thing right. Could my brain have
undergone some kind of switch, too? Could it be helping me tackle the new
responsibilities of motherhood?

Modified for Motherhood

In 2010, a study in Behavioral Neuroscience of human moms found that,
between roughly three weeks and three months postpartum, certain brain
regions grew. These changes happened in areas like the parietal lobes,
involved in processing touch and sight; midbrain areas such as the
hypothalamus, which helps regulate hormones, and the amygdala, which is
associated with emotions and survival instincts; and the prefrontal cortex,
key in high-level thinking such as planning and decision making. All are
regions involved in caring for an infant.


That same study also found that mothers who perceived their babies more
positively at 3 weeks old (using words like “perfect” and “special” to
describe them) had the greatest increases in these areas at 3 months. These
boosts in brain volume, the authors write, suggest that a mother’s feelings
toward her baby may facilitate the brain’s adaptations. However, whether
mom’s feelings affect her brain volume or vice versa remains unknown.


But while some brain areas grow, others shrink. A 2016 study in Nature
Neuroscience
examined brain images of 25 women before and after their first
pregnancies. It found that, compared with pre-pregnancy, some regions —
primarily those involved in understanding other people’s emotions and
intention — were smaller postpartum, and they stayed that way for at least
two years. The difference was so striking that a computer algorithm created
for the study flawlessly predicted which women had babies and which didn’t.
“I’ve never seen any data like this,” says Elseline Hoekzema, a
neuroscientist at Leiden University and the lead author of the paper.


This long-lasting decrease isn’t necessarily bad news, as a smaller size
doesn’t always mean loss of function. In fact, in Hoekzema’s study, moms
who scored higher on tests of attachment to their child had greater
reductions in these regions. So this shrinkage may mean unnecessary
connections between neurons are pruned away in these brain areas and they
become more specialized and efficient— similar to pruning that takes place
in the brain during adolescence.


I guess my brain really has changed since becoming a mom, then. And I’m not
wrong to blame my favorite pregnancy scapegoat — hormones. “The hormone
fluxes of pregnancy are simply so massive that they must change the brain,”
says Hoekzema. In her study, she also found that the brains of fathers
weren’t affected, suggesting the changes aren’t just from the experience of
becoming a parent. (See below for what happens to the paternal brain.)


Hoekzema also found that motherhood reduced the volume of the hippocampus,
an area important for memory. By two years postpartum, this reduction had
partially recovered to normal levels, providing both a possible explanation
for memory problems and a hope that they resolve, as other studies have
reported.

Forever Changed

I do feel like my memory has improved since those early postpartum weeks,
but my ability to focus still suffers. I doubt that will change anytime
soon. There will always be more worries and things to keep track of with a
child. But it’s nice to know my brain is adapting to meet the challenge.
Especially when it feels like just that, a challenge, Lambert suggests
mothers take a step back and consider all the new responsibilities they are
juggling. “Moms are kind of super beings,” she says.


As I’m sitting in my home office trying (and failing) to focus on writing
this piece, my daughter comes in to give me an unexpected hug: a reminder
that this distraction is a pretty wonderful one. “Pregnancy and motherhood
changes you forever,” says Hoekzema. That’s not a bad thing.

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Ecology

Globe Climate: Canada’s resource reckoning is coming

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Good afternoon, and welcome to Globe Climate, a newsletter about climate change, environment and resources in Canada.

This afternoon, the Alberta government announced that it is restoring a coal mining policy it revoked last spring. At the time, the move provoked a widespread public backlash detailed by The Globe. The original decision, which opened up more than 1.4 million hectares to exploration, was made without public consultation. Premier Jason Kenney previously defended the changes.

Lots more on coal and Canada’s resources industry in this week’s newsletter edition.

Now, let’s catch you up on other news.

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Ecology

‘Incredibly destructive’: Canada’s Prairies to see devastating impact of climate change

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As the climate continues to warm at an alarming rate, experts warn if dramatic steps to mitigate global warming are not taken, the effects in Canada’s Prairie region will be devastating to the country’s agriculture sector.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the country is warming, on average, about double the global rate.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. recently found 2020 was earth’s second-hottest year on record, with the average land and ocean surface temperature across the globe at 0.98 of a degree C above the 20th-century average.

However, the agency found the northern hemisphere saw its hottest year on record, at 1.28 degrees C above the average.

“(In Canada) we are looking at about 6.4C degrees of warming this century, which isn’t much less than one degree per decade, which is just a terrifying rate of warming,” Darrin Qualman, the director of climate crisis policy and action at the National Farmer’s Union said.

Qualman said there is “massive change coming” to Canada’s Prairies, which will be “incredibly destructive.”

“It’s not going too far to say that if we made that happen, parts of the Prairies wouldn’t be farmable anymore,” he said.

According to the federal government, in 2018 Canada’s agriculture and agri-food system generated $143 billion, accounting for 7.4 per cent of the country’s GDP.

The sector employed 2.3 million people in 2018. The majority of the 64.2 million hectares of farmland in Canada is concentrated in the Prairies and in southern Ontario.

The effects of climate change are already being felt on the ground in the Prairies, Qualman said, adding that the NFU has already heard from farmers complaining of “challenging weather.”

“People are sharing pictures of flattened crops and buildings, et cetera, that have been damaged,” he said. “And we’re still at the beginning of this.”

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Ecology

Insect-based dog food aims to cut your pet’s carbon pawprint

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Meat has an enormous carbon footprint, with livestock liable for about 15 per cent of worldwide emissions, as we have beforehand mentioned on this e-newsletter. That is prompted specialists to suggest consuming much less meat for sustainability (and well being) causes.

However what about your pet? One research discovered that the methane and nitrous oxide emissions generated by canine and cat meals within the U.S. alone had been equal to about 64 million tonnes of CO2, or roughly the quantity produced by 13.6 million automobiles. And it might be getting worse, with a development towards feeding pets “human-grade” meat.

That is prompted some pet meals makers to look to lower-carbon protein sources — together with bugs.

Research present that producing insect-based meals requires far much less feed, land and water and generates far fewer greenhouse fuel emissions per kilogram than meats comparable to beef, pork or rooster.

That is one of many causes increasingly more pet meals containing insect protein are hitting the market. Purina, a model owned by multinational Nestlé, launched a line of canine and cat meals containing black soldier fly larvae in Switzerland in November.

In Canada, Montreal-based Wilder Harrier began promoting canine treats made with cricket protein in 2015 and pet food made with black soldier fly larvae in 2019. It plans to broaden to launch a line of insect-based cat treats later this yr and cat meals in 2022 due to “a ton of demand,” mentioned firm co-founder Philippe Poirier.

Wilder Harrier initially labored with animal nutritionists on insect-based merchandise to unravel a unique downside — specifically, the founders’ canines had allergy symptoms to frequent meats utilized in canine meals. Poirier mentioned now about half its prospects hunt down the product due to their pets’ allergy symptoms and about half for environmental causes.

Dr. Cailin Heinze, a U.S.-based veterinary nutritionist licensed by the American School of Veterinary Vitamin, has written concerning the environmental influence of pet meals. She mentioned we’re typically “not as involved as we probably ought to [be]” concerning the environmental footprint of pets.

Alternatively, she famous that the longer-term influence of newer diets, comparable to vegan meals and people containing bugs, hasn’t been nicely examined in comparison with conventional pet meals.

Maria Cattai de Godoy, an assistant professor of animal sciences on the College of Illinois who research novel proteins for pet meals (together with bugs, yeast and plant-based substances), mentioned such substances are rigorously examined to find out their security and diet earlier than being added to pet meals. 

“This can be a very extremely regulated trade,” she mentioned, however admitted it is also evolving.

Relating to bugs, she mentioned constructive information “reveals promise in direction of utilizing them increasingly more in pet meals.” Insect-based proteins have additionally earned the endorsement of the British Veterinary Affiliation, which says some insect-based meals could also be higher for pets than prime steak.

However Godoy famous that there isn’t any one-size-fits-all resolution, and pet homeowners ought to take into consideration the wants of their very own particular person pet and analysis whether or not a specific weight loss plan can be appropriate.

She mentioned that other than the kind of protein, issues like packaging and manufacturing strategies may also make a distinction. For instance, utilizing meat byproducts that may in any other case turn into waste would not drive elevated meat manufacturing the identical approach as utilizing human-grade meat.

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