Mom's Love is Brain Booster

A nurturing mother makes for a healthy brain

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A loving and supportive mother is, of course, a huge asset for any child. The emotional and physical benefits of good parenting are essential for healthy development.

And it's good for baby's brain, as well. School-age children whose mothers nurtured them early in life have a larger area of the brain that impacts learning, memory and stress management.

"Nurture your child early to grow the brain."

Research conducted by child psychiatrists and neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis showed that the brains of children with early maternal nurturing actually had a larger hippocampus.

This is the first study to show that changes in this critical region of a child’s brain are linked to a mother’s nurturing.

Lead author Joan L. Luby, M.D., says that the study validates just how important nurturing parents are to creating adaptive human beings. The study conducted brain-imaging scans on 92 children between the ages of seven and 10; the children had all participated in an earlier study of preschool depression.

That earlier study rated how nurturing a parent was in an objective setting, and also measured whether the children had depression or were mentally healthy.

When some of the same children were used in this latest brain scan study, the children without depression who had been highly nurtured had a hippocampus almost 10 percent larger than the children whose mothers were not as nurturing.

The hippocampus is an important brain structure; it activates the release of stress coping hormones and is key in learning and memory. Dr. Luby said that the smaller hippocampus volume in the depressed children might be expected, but she was surprised that nurturing had such a big physical difference in the mentally healthy children.

“For years studies have underscored the importance of an early, nurturing environment for good, healthy outcomes for children,” Dr. Luby said. “This study, to my knowledge, is the first that actually shows an anatomical change in the brain, which really provides validation for the very large body of early childhood development literature that had been highlighting the importance of early parenting and nurturing."

Having a hippocampus that’s almost 10 percent larger, Dr. Luby added, provides concrete evidence of the powerful effect of parental nurturing.

The results were published in the January 2012 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Review Date: 
January 31, 2012
Last Updated:
January 31, 2012