Aug 17 , 2021
The term ‘mommy brain’ may sound like a fictional condition, but science says otherwise. It’s a real thing and it can manifest in different ways: entering a room and forgetting what you came in for, ‘blanking’ on the names of your coworkers and even your partner, or searching your home for sunglasses that are already on the top of your head. It can happen to anyone from time to time, and doubly so for pregnant and postpartum women.
What is mommy brain?
Mommy brain, aka ‘momnesia’ or ‘baby brain’ all refer to the general forgetfulness moms experience during pregnancy and after giving birth. It can feel as though you’re swimming in thoughts.
As a What to Expect writer explains, “gray matter decreases in certain parts of the brain during pregnancy and then increases in some brain regions postpartum. This pruning of neurons seems to help your brain specialize in all those new maternal skills once your little one arrives.”
At the same time, the brain prepares you for being a better caregiver. There is growth in the amygdala, hypothalamus and substantia nigra. Growth is also seen in the prefrontal cortex—an area that helps with decision making and managing emotions.
Interestingly, there is evidence that being a new father can also impact the brain. During one experiment, new mothers and fathers had their brains scanned while watching videos of themselves interacting with their babies. In both the mothers and fathers, there was an increase in activity of the amygdala, which is involved with the experiencing of emotions. In fact, the more involved fathers had amygdala’s that more closely resembled that of their partners.
Where does mommy brain come from?
Mommy brain is more than sleep deprivation and round-the-clock care of a newborn. As reported in a Verywell Family article, “scientists have discovered that there is a neurobiological change in a woman's brain both during pregnancy and after, which impacts verbal memory.”
While the verdict is still out, many researchers believe that changes in a mom’s brain take place as a way to better care for her baby. It helps them adapt to their new roles as mothers and better attune to the specific needs of their babies.
All this is to say that while mommy brain can make you feel like you’re ‘losing it’ a little, it’s really your body helping you be a better mom. Trust in the process and know that there’s nothing wrong with you. The good news is that it won't last forever. The grey matter does return to its normal size sometime after giving birth.
Tips and tools to help get you through
We know dealing with mommy brain can be frustrating. You feel foggy and your memory seems all over the place. Here are a few tips and tools to help get you through this tough time.
The most important thing here is to have compassion and patience for yourself. Knowing that your body and brain are doing what is in the best interest of your baby is key. Allow yourself mental space to lean into these changes and don’t punish yourself for being forgetful.
If you’ve never been a ‘list’ person before, now is a great time to start. Buy a notebook or pad of paper and write down everything you might need to know in case you forget. Post-it notes can be helpful, too. Buy a few and color-code your different lists: daily medicines to take, errands to run, pump parts to replace, etc. Stick them on your fridge door or around the house.
Alternatively, you can set reminders as alarms on your phone. You can make lists while you pump, especially if you’re pumping hands-free with the Lilu Massage Bra.
Set a routine
Even if you can’t always stick to your routine, it’s important to try your best so that you get enough time to rest and recuperate. Developing a routine adds structure and predictability to your day, and allows your brain to focus on things other than daily scheduling. Babies love routines, too, so it’s a win-win.
Creating a routine also ensures that you will get enough sleep—sleep deprivation certainly increases your odds of having brain fog and forgetfulness. Your brain needs ample rest to process all the new information received during the day. Even anxiety can be lessened by sleeping and resting enough. This, plus breastfeeding and other mom duties can really wear you out.
There’s no right or wrong way to plan your day, and it’s totally normal if your routine changes as your baby’s needs change, too. Maybe you begin the day with an early morning feeding, then put your little one down for a nap. Maybe you use this time to shower or rest yourself, or to catch up on washing your pump parts.
Prioritize brain health
Maintaining a good, healthy diet is tough stuff, especially when you’re a new mom. The average woman may have a 2000 calorie diet to sustain typical bodily energy and function. However, breastfeeding can burn around 400 to 500 calories per day, which is why it’s important that pumping and nursing moms eat a healthy diet and take into account their caloric needs. All of this helps to establish and maintain milk supply.
To boost brain health, add foods like blueberries, broccoli and turmeric to your meals whenever possible. Food aside, you can also sharpen your thinking skills with a crossword puzzle or other brain-training games. An app like Happify is a great resource; games are science-based and designed to help ease negative thoughts, stress and increase mindfulness.
Get the help you need
We know that asking for help can be hard, but this is the moment when you need it the most. Getting the help you need will benefit you, your baby and your mental health. You don’t have to do it all alone. Lean on your partner and on your friends, family and neighbors. A helping hand can allow for more ‘me’ time, which you so deserve.