Mommy brain: mystery or myth?

by | Jul 10, 2018

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Mommy brain, pregnancy brain or placenta brain, whatever you might call it, the bad news is that it does exist. However Nadia Scrooby writes, the good news is that though it may feel overwhelming at the time, it is temporary and necessary for all moms.

Mommy brain, baby brain, porridge brain, pudding brain, pregnancy brain, or whatever else absentmindedness during pregnancy is called, is in actual fact not a myth. As much as this reality is a challenge, the good news is that it will pass.

Pregnancy really does cause forgetfulness, indecisiveness and lack of concentration. It is not an old wives’ tale as many moms-to-be have been told. Recent research by Deakin University, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, found that women’s cognitive function is affected during pregnancy.

Although mommy brain affects women differently throughout pregnancy, the first decline can affect a mom-to-be as early as the first trimester. In the mentioned study, expectant moms’ attention span, decision-making, planning and memory measured a decline, but they were still scoring within the acceptable range. In other words, while you may not be at your best, brain-wise, the impact of mommy brain is unlikely to be dramatic or long lasting.

Mommy brain can continue to influence cognitive function for months after birth. A study published in 2017 showed that grey matter reduces during pregnancy, but it should restore by the time the child is two years old. Sasha Davies, one of the study’s authors, wrote in The Conversation that so-called baby brain is an important adaptive phenomenon that might help women prepare for raising their children by allowing their brains to adapt to their unique new role as mothers.

What causes this adaptive phenomenon?

According to Davies, pregnancy brain prepares women to rely less on cognitive function. Less logical thinking elevates instinctive and emotional responses and both are needed to concentrate on a newborn’s needs. Bonding with your baby relies on emotional, social and instinctive brain function and not on rational brain function.

With referral to the Triune Brain Theory, created by neuroscientist Paul MacLean, the brain has three layers. The brain function in the lower layer of the brain, also called the survival brain, controls instinctive responses. The brain function in the mid-layer of the brain, also called the limbic system, is responsible for emotional and social behaviour and the top layer of the brain, also called the neo cortex, is responsible for intellectual functioning and conscious thinking.

Mommy brain entails the process of trusting your own instincts to nurture your baby during and after pregnancy. Relying less on executive decision-making and more on the brain’s emotional and survival state, prepares an expectant mom for birth and taking care of a newborn baby.

How does “momnesia” support mom and baby?

Mommy brain, cleverly referred to as momnesia, could thus be blamed on mothers focusing on the welfare of the baby above all other things. Relying on emotional and survival brain activity ensures:

  • Safety of the baby
  • Bonding between mom and baby
  • Mom’s social cognition
  • “Reading” of baby’s cues
  • Mom’s confidence in understanding baby’s facial expressions, cries and movements
  • Mom responds to baby’s needs.

Tips and tricks to cope with pregnancy brain

Pregnancy brain generally won’t affect quality of life, as minor memory lapses are usually only noticed by mommy and her close friends and family.
Fatigue, hormonal changes and stress can also contribute to memory loss, but it seems that mommy brain is predominantly due to less active parts of the brain.

To smooth out challenges, consider the following:

  • Use sticky notes
  • Compile to-do lists
  • Keep a calendar
  • Keep a journal or diary
  • Set reminders and notifications on your phone or mobile apps
  • Confide in your partner or a close friend or relative
  • Attend antenatal classes with your birthing partner
  • Delegate less important tasks
  • Declutter and improve storage solutions
  • Allocate designated areas for often-used items
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Get enough rest and sleep
  • Exercise
  • Take prenatal supplements as needed
  • Eat nutrient dense foods

Embrace this amazing phenomenon as part of your journey to prepare for your precious little one’s arrival. When the brain gets rid of neural networks that it doesn’t need, your brain becomes more effective for motherhood. That is truly amazing! You are wonderfully made, and so is your baby.