Mom(my) Brain: Fact or Fiction?

You’re scrambling around in the morning, trying to get your heathen of a 3-year-old son out the door to daycare. You turn to your husband and say, “Grab hisyou know that thing over there that he takes to school every day…you know, that thing on the hook” and you blank. What’s “that thing” called?! You are staring this object down like it’s a 4th-grade staring contest and you are meant to win. I mean, it’s right there! You’ve COMPLETELY forgotten what “it’” is. So, you begin to point at the object and then gesture to your back while making a zipper motion hoping the word will come to you or someone will blurt it out. As your son and husband gawk at you with bewilderment, your husband finally says… “are you wanting me to get his backpack?” Your brain screams, yes! Then outwardly you roar, “YES, that’s the word”! And you jump up and down with such glee and excitement as if you just won a brand-new car on a game show!

If this has happened to you, you are officially in the club. From first-time moms to veteran moms, you plainly have it. Welcome to mom (mommy) brain!

It’s frustrating when “mom brain” attacks. It happens when you least expect it. Sometimes it also comes with a wild game of charades when you are really struggling to find the word, but it shouldn’t be a shock. This is a real phenomenon that is backed up by science. Researchers from the Autonomous University of Barcelona have done studies on mothers’ brains before and after giving birth and have found there are changes in the structure of their brains that were long-lasting, some remaining for two years. But could you blame us? Between the hormone rollercoaster, added responsibilities of handling another human being’s food source, and sleep deprivation, to name a few, we are allowed some lapses of brain function. Abigail Tucker, the author of “Mom Genes: Inside the New Science of Our Ancient Maternal Instinct”, pointed out that several recent studies concluded that women experience varying cognitive changes like trouble with verbal recall and forgetfulness in the months and years after giving birth.

Additionally, Nature Neuroscience published a 2017 study in which a decrease in social cognition related to a reduction of gray matter in the moms’ brains might have led to the beloved term, “mom (mommy) brain”. Some experts also found that moms with the largest gray matter shrinkage also had the highest levels of maternal bonding. Based on these facts, I am in the upper echelon of maternal bonding! It could be that gray matter shrinkage is part of a natural pruning effect where the brain is adapting to the new parental responsibilities when caring for a tiny human(s). This phenomenon also happens in adolescence, another period of considerable physiological change for the brain. What’s more, not every woman has the same experience with “mom brain”. Some moms feel more alert after birth or never show signs of brain drain while others struggle for years, as with many of my colleagues. Further studies also investigated fathers in these same scenarios. They discovered select dads have some of the same structural changes in the brains, just not as prominent or permanent as the moms. Yep, “dad brain” is also a thing! So don’t pass judgment if your husband or partner has the same lapse in cognitive response when trying to remember the name of your dog vs. your 3-year-old!

Have no fear moms (and dads)! As you navigate through the 3 am feedings and diaper changes, it’s ok if you can’t recall a simple word like “backpack” or “Rover”. Your lack of vocabulary can be explained and is perfectly normal and even beneficial for you and your baby. Navigating “mom brain” is no picnic but following these helpful tips for coping with the effects of this brain drain can help you squash your fears and not feel so alone.

  • Be patient (there’s a reason behind the madness – give yourself grace every day)
  • Make lots of lists (have you seen my desk? #ihavestockinpostitnotes)
  • Plan ahead (frustration starts with procrastination but don’t try to be superwoman)
  • Develop a routine (structure and predictability take so much stress off your brain)
  • Get as much sleep as you can (I know, I know…impossible as there is only 24-hours in a day)
  • Make time for yourself (this could be a nap, a hair appointment, a walk, etc)
  • Boost your brain health by doing puzzles, reading, eating brain-boosting foods, and playing games
  • ASK FOR HELP (graciously accept and ask for this precious gift)

Now stop reading this blog and go take that nap you desperately need! You’ve got this!

Written by Amber Wozniak