Examining Motherhood as a Force for Cognitive Plasticity
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New mothers face significant learning requirements, and must develop skills necessary for their infant’s survival. Perhaps the hormonal changes that presage birth, and are maintained by breastfeeding, enhance mothers’ cognitive preparation to cope with the learning challenges of motherhood. We propose a study with several aims: to examine the extent to which motherhood facilitates women’s ability to learn across a variety of tasks; to investigate whether breastfeeding might extend a potential period of heightened cognitive plasticity in new mothers; and to see if greater learning ability predicts better acquisition of skills central to motherhood, such as breastfeeding. We anticipate that mothers will outperform non-mothers on learning tasks, that breastfeeding mothers will show a slower decline in learning performance after giving birth than non-breastfeeding mothers, and that those showing strong learning performance will display higher levels of breastfeeding success. Should our findings confirm these predictions, this information will broaden perceptions about what motherhood potentiates, and may provide a frame to study learning enhancement in adults.