20 reasons having a baby is good for you
From better memory (yes, really) to better health, Helen Foster discovers that a new baby can improve every part of your life
1. You’re cleverer than before. While it might seem like your brain slightly turns to mush while you’re expecting, scientists now believe this is actually your brain remodelling itself – the brain becomes bigger in pregnancy and the connections between the neurons become more effective – particularly improving your memory (however hard this is to believe). ‘This makes sense evolutionarily as mothers need to get a lot sharper to protect their child,’ says Katherine Ellison, author of The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter.
2. You understand your mum more. ‘You re-evaluate your relationship with your own parents - you can develop more understanding of what they were trying to do,’ says relationship coach Olga Levancuka.
3. Endometriosis may be less painful after you have a baby. ‘It’s not the case for everyone, but five to ten per cent find their symptoms improve,’ says specialist in endometriosis Christopher Mann.
4. You get fewer colds. Carnegie Mellon University scientists found parents were 52 per cent less likely to catch them. And it’s not just because of the bugs your little one brings home – they think the psychological boost of being a parent revs up immunity.
5. Your liver loves you. Researchers at University College London found that giving up alcohol for just one month reduces liver damage; blood pressure and cholesterol also fall. ‘Abstaining and getting in the habit of drinking less can definitely have long-term benefits,’ says Andrew Langford of the British Liver Trust. ‘Even when you’re not expecting, we recommend two to three consecutive days off alcohol every week.’
6. You have hugs on tap, each one releasing the hormone oxytocin. ‘This is anti-inflammatory so may alleviate joint pains or backache,’ says Clare Blake. It also reduces stress levels, she explains.
7. If you breastfeed, especially for longer than a year, you also lower your risk of breast cancer. ‘We don’t know exactly why but it might be because ovaries don’t produce eggs so often when breastfeeding, or that breastfeeding makes the breasts more resistant to the changes that lead to cancer,’ says Fiona Osgun, health information officer at Cancer Research UK.
8. Your boss thinks better of you. Research commissioned by O2 found that 41 per cent of bosses thought mums were better at multitasking and juggling their time commitments than non-mums. And 39 per cent of mums thought their performance at work improved when they came back after having their baby.
9. Diabetes, heart disease and stroke risk could all fall. US researcher Professor Eleanor Bimla Schwarz found that breast-feeding reduced the risk of all three conditions by about ten per cent after menopause.
10. It’s a great chance to make friends. Becoming a mother opens you up to a whole new potential social group. But if you’re a bit shy, how do you progress from saying hi and smiling to being friends? ‘You have to take a bit of a risk and actually make that approach, but try suggesting something spontaneous – coffee after your class or a trip to the playground,’ suggests life coach Sarah Wheatley from advice site Guru + Go. This feels less formal and pressured than asking to arrange a meeting for the future, she says.
11. Your periods could be lighter. Dr Keith Duncan, consultant obstetrician at London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, says that pregnancy, and any subsequent vaginal delivery, both change the structure of the cervix (the neck of the womb), making it thinner and slightly more open. This has a knock-on effect on periods that makes them lighter – although they might last a day or two longer than before. Period pain can also reduce.
12. An overactive immune system can be behind certain forms of arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis. But Dr Clare Thompson, a GP in London, notes that some of these auto-immune conditions often improve during pregnancy and that this boost may continue afterwards too. The reason, she says, is that during pregnancy there are increased levels of natural steroids and growth hormones, which regulate the mother’s immune system.‘This causes a stabilisation of disease activity which can have a lasting effect,’ she explains.
13. Your relationship strengthens. In an Aptamil study, 80 per cent of women said having a child made it stronger. But what if things have been a bit rocky? ‘Many men fear that a baby will put a distance between them and their partner,’ says Olga. Spend time with your partner, ‘and ensure communication is not just about mundane things or the children’.
14. You walk – a lot. A Mothercare study found that mums with buggies cover a whopping 750 miles a year. ‘To power things up, walk at a brisk pace and push through your bottom and legs rather than just relying on your arms,’ says postnatal trainer Vicki Hill. ‘You can also stop now and then to do a few squats or lunges.’ Also try your local Buggy Fit class.
15. The gym might feel easier, because in pregnancy your heart gets better at pumping blood. ‘But you shouldn’t exercise for at least six weeks after birth, ten weeks after a caesarean – and with higher impact exercise like running, not for at least 13-14 weeks,’ says Vicki. But there’s no rush – it’s suggested the boost lasts for about a year.
16. Every baby lowers your risk of ovarian cancer. A new study from Oxford University found that having one child reduces the risk of developing the disease by 29 per cent – and each subsequent child caused risk to fall a further eight per cent. It’s not known exactly, but again it’s probably down to the fact that we don’t ovulate when pregnant or breastfeeding. Ovulation is actually quite a forceful process and each month a bit of damage occurs in the surrounding tissue. When new cells are produced to mend this there’s a risk that they can form slightly strangely – and this is potentially what triggers tumours. ‘With no monthly cycle in pregnancy, there’s less damage to the lining of the ovary and no need for more cells to be produced. Fewer cells means less chance of mutation,’ says Ross Little at Ovarian Cancer Action.
17. You’re more motivated to be healthy. Once you have a child you can find yourself inspired by what experts call ‘external motivation’ where you make a positive change not for you but because of the benefits it might have for someone else. ‘Often we don’t have the chance to tap into this form of motivation before motherhood,’ says Sarah Wheatley. ‘But when you realise your child will copy what you do, or you are making changes that could give you more time with them, it becomes easier to stick with things.’ To boost this effect Sarah suggests making a list of all the reasons you want to make that change, then reading them if you do find yourself struggling a little.
18. Body image can improve. ‘I’m not saying it’s easy to get used to a mum tum, but if you start to appreciate that your body was a home for another life for nine months, you can develop a new appreciation of it,’ says confidence coach Jo Emerson.
19. You live longer. Mothers have a 20 per cent reduced risk of early death than those who haven’t had a baby, say researchers at Imperial College London. Having babies in your 20s or having two or three children seems particularly protective – and all the reduced risks of illness, the extra exercise and the cuddles help explain why.
20. You get an injection of new cells. Within the first four to six weeks of pregnancy your baby transmits cells to you that live in your bone marrow. Just why isn’t known, but ‘It increasingly looks like they might help to protect us against diseases including cancer,’ says Linda Geddes in her book Bumpology. ‘It’s like a kind of foetal insurance policy that boosts the chance of mum surviving long enough to support her offspring into adulthood.’