New research shows just how powerful a mother’s love can be.

Child psychiatrists and neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that children with particularly nurturing mothers have brains that are more developed in areas key for learning, memory, and response to stress.

"This study validates something that seems to be intuitive, which is just how important nurturing parents are to creating adaptive human beings," said study author Joan L. Luby, MD. "I think the public health implications suggest that we should pay more attention to parents' nurturing, and we should do what we can as a society to foster these skills because clearly nurturing has a very, very big impact on later development."

Dr. Luby and her team used brain imaging to study 92 children ages 7 to 10 after monitoring and characterizing their relationship with their mothers, and found that a more nurturing mother led to a larger hippocampus – one of the brain’s key developmental structures.

It’s the first study to find an actual anatomical change in the brain related to motherly care rather than psychosocial outcomes.

The research is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.