It's no secret that our bodies do some pretty amazing things during pregnancy. It grows and changes to house a developing baby, nourishing it and keeping it alive, until it's time to delivery. Let's not even get started on what our incredible bodies do during childbirth! But aside from the physical aspects of pregnancy, our brains go through some pretty awesome and interesting changes, too.
Surging hormones, developing maternal instinct, however you explain it - our brains go a little haywire while that baby sits in our belly. A new study suggests that our brains actually start to expand the area it considers our personal space in the late stages of pregnancy, sort of as a way to keep danger at arm's length and protect ourselves and our growing baby. This is actually a really cool study!
The study was carried out in Cambridge and conducted by scientists from Anglia Ruskin University and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Addenbooke's Hospital. Researchers set out to investigate what's called peripersonal space, and figure out if it changes at any stage of pregnancy. Peripersonal space is the area immediately surrounding our body, where the majority of our interactions with the external world occur. This area is constantly monitored by our brains.
Researchers used an audio-tactile test to measure the peripersonal space of non-pregnant women, pregnant women in their second trimester, pregnant women in their third trimester, and women who were roughly eight weeks postpartum.
They found that during the second trimester and postpartum period, a pregnant woman's peripersonal space was comparable to that of a non-pregnant woman. However, in the third trimester, peripersonal space expanded, most likely to account for and protect the woman's growing belly. So our brains literally make our personal safety bubble bigger as our bellies get bigger during pregnancy! It senses that our bellies and the babies inside are vulnerable, and reprograms itself to expand the area of safety around them.
This is a quirky and cool little piece of data, and now that we think about it, we definitely remember needing to keep our personal space extra safe during pregnancy. Looking back, we wish we had enjoyed that a bit more, because goodness knows your peripersonal space goes away completely once those babies are on the outside.