You’re feeding your baby in the middle of the night, trying against all hope to remember what your mother had said to you that morning about plans for a family brunch on the weekend. After minutes of searching your brain, you just can’t come up with it and you’re too tired to think anymore. No, you’re not going crazy. This is just one version of ‘baby brain’.
What is baby brain?
Also termed ‘momnesia’, it’s a normal side effect of becoming a new parent. You’re busy doing a hundred things at once and you’re not getting enough sleep. In fact, many women lose up to 700 hours of sleep in just the first year after their baby is born alone! Further, you might also be stressed if everything in your pregnancy or birth didn’t go quite as planned. Those are reason enough to experience memory lapses!
While your brain is not physically altered by pregnancy (some studies have suggested otherwise, stating that brains of mothers were reduced for a period of two years following the birth; however, these studies aren’t conclusive), nor is your IQ in any way diminished, it does experience some interesting flows of hormones during pregnancy and postpartum, which do temporarily affect your brain.
The effects of pregnancy hormones on your brain
Beyond the lack of sleep, your body and your brain are being flooded with different hormones, which have an impact on your functioning normally.
While you’re pregnant, your body and brain are getting 15 to 40% more progesterone and estrogen than in a normal state. That’s a big difference, in a relatively short period of time! Hormones affect many things in your body, including neurons in your brain, so it’s inevitable that a rush of certain hormones will have an impact.
When you’re giving birth, your body floods with oxytocin, which helps the uterus to contract and is involved in the production of milk. We can all agree that these are essential for birthing! But they also have an impact on the brain’s circuitry.
A shift in priorities
In addition to the physical impact of hormones, there is the fact that as a new parent, your priorities are likely to have changed for the foreseeable future. You might have been a news junkie in the past, but for a little while anyway, your focus shifts more to the thoughts and actions that will keep baby thriving.
This doesn’t mean that you will become one of those moms who can’t talk about anything other than her baby! But there is some evolutionary biology at work here, ensuring that mothers focus on baby and not on other things, at least for a little while!
Primary impacts of baby brain
Really, it’s short term memory that is most affected. You will feel like you’ve forgotten to do something or you’ll go into a room to get something but can’t remember what. That’s because of the change in focus. Your brain is telling you to reduce complications in your life by focusing in on the things that matter most!
How can you deal with baby brain?
First off, understanding that it is not a permanent condition, nor is it a reflection on your abilities or intelligence is important.
1. Get in the habit of writing things down. Make lists on your phone or in your planner that you can refer to. If you know you’ve written things down, you’ll worry less about forgetting.
2. Try and get more sleep. This is a tough one for new parents, but you can give yourself of the gift of wellbeing by hiring a postpartum doula. While you rest and take a shower, you won’t need to worry that your baby is being well cared for, which will give your brain a rest too!