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Surviving with “Mom Brain”

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It is pouring rain outside as the car window fogs, I forgot the umbrella (of course), and now I have to run back into the grocery store because I forgot to grab diapers during my first grocery run. How did I forget to grab diapers? I had a living reminder staring at me from the shopping cart. As I plan my strategy to dodge the raindrops and run back into the grocery store for the second time with my little guy in tow (fun), I wonder what has happened to my brain. I am more forgetful, my brain feels foggy, and I have the emotional lability of a toddler. What is happening to me??

I think most new moms can relate to this (please say yes!). If you are a mom then you have probably heard of, or experienced “mom brain”.   Most women complain of increased forgetfulness, lapses in judgment, and/or emotional instability after baby is born. So what is up? Is this normal? Are we all losing our minds?

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Well, the answer is not so simple, but I can assure you that you are not losing your mind. The brain is a complex organ that we in the medical field have yet to completely understand. It truly is the final frontier. Pregnant and postpartum brains have been even more elusive because up until recently there has been very little research to evaluate the changes that may occur in the brain as a result of pregnancy.   A new research paper published in 2016 describes visible changes in the brain in women during pregnancy and lasting up to two years after delivery. A group of researchers from Barcelona scanned the brains of women during pregnancy and again at intervals postpartum. These researchers demonstrated definite changes in the grey matter of the brain in the areas associated with social cognition. These changes are believed to help women understand the needs and emotions of their babies. While this change is extremely helpful for new moms to connect to their new babies, it also can explain why postpartum women have more intense emotional responses in general. This may explain why I now can no longer watch movies, TV shows, and commercials that have anything to do with children in distress.

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As far as cognition and judgment… “Mom brain” really should be called “a preoccupied, hyperemotional, sleep deprived woman”. I know it feels like you are getting dumber by the second, but there is no research at this time to suggest that memory, cognition and overall judgment is affected by physical changes in the brain as a result of pregnancy or postpartum. Rather, the foggy feeling many women describe as “mom brain” is more likely a result of a combination of sleep deprivation, preoccupation with other tasks and thoughts, and distraction. A new mom goes from just thinking of herself, her partner and her job to suddenly thinking of a new mini person with all of the associated necessities that this little peanut comes with on little to no sleep and a hyperemotional brain. Sounds like fun! Let a man try to remember anything under those conditions!

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Unfortunately, the causes of “mom brain” are difficult to avoid, but we can learn to manage symptoms. Here are some tips on how to function in the world with “mom brain”:

  1. Be patient with yourself. Remember there are physical changes your brain has undergone to make you the best mom you can be, but it does have other effects. So don’t cringe when you start crying at the Hallmark commercials. Give yourself room to be emotional and don’t judge. However, if your emotions are affecting your daily living or your ability to care for yourself or your family, then you should seek help from your physician or midwife.
  2. Make lists, lots and lots of lists. Find a good app on your phone for lists or do it the old fashion way with pen and paper. Just don’t leave home without it!
  3. Give yourself time to get tasks done. Rushing intensifies the feelings of fatigue and absentmindedness.
  4. Plan ahead. In my pre-baby life, I was accustomed to doing everything very last minute and in general flying by the seat of my pants. I have found out the hard way that the more I do it the old way, the more I forget. I have invested in a good calendar that I can share with my husband. I have made it a habit to prepare for the day the night before.
  5. Engage your partner with tasks to help you throughout the day.
  6. Get as much sleep as possible, even if it means frequent naps when baby naps.
  7. Make time for yourself daily, even if it is only thirty minutes. Make it a time to relax, decompress and allow your mind to wander.

You’ve Got this Momma!!!

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