You’re probably familiar with the term ‘Baby Brain’ aka ‘Mommy Brain’. But is it always a negative thing?
If you’ve ever been pregnant and looked after a newborn baby you might even remember those foggy-headed moments when you can’t find your sunglasses (on your head), or when you call your partner by the dog’s name and struggle to remember which floor of the car park you’ve parked your car.
We wonder what’s happening to our minds and worry that our cognitive capabilities have disappeared for good. We also may find ourselves crying as we watch the news, distressed by watching scary movies and easily picking up and being affected by the emotions of others.
‘Baby Brain’ is a well-documented phenomenon among mothers and modern science confirms the fact that during pregnancy, birth and motherhood our brains actually shrink by around 7%.
But is ‘Baby Brain’ always a negative thing? Should it be something to denigrate and make fun of or should we learn to embrace it, knowing that it has profound benefits for our mothering journey and may even allow us to learn new skills and to empathise more deeply not just with our babies but also with those around us.
During the last months of pregnancy and the first months of motherhood, your brain is flooded with a cocktail of different hormones. One of the most powerful is a hormone called Oxytocin often known as the ‘mothering hormone’ or the ‘love hormone’.
Oxytocin affects our body and brain in many ways. It’s produced in abundance when you fall in love, make love and orgasm and especially when you birth and fall in love with your baby, peaking in the ‘golden hour’ after birth. It’s responsible for those gorgeous warm, gooey feelings that come with these events but also has other important jobs to do such as producing strong effective labour contractions, helping to expel the placenta safely, establishing a rich supply of breast milk and letdown and encouraging bonding with your newborn.
For all of these things to happen effectively we need a rich supply of oxytocin available to us in the weeks preceding, and following birth.
Oxytocin also affects us in other ways. In order for the brain to produce large amounts of oxytocin to prepare us for birth, bonding and breastfeeding, the rational ‘masculine’ cognitive part of the brain needs to switch off. This part of the brain that helps us to think clearly and rationally, remember where we put those car keys and on what floor we parked the car begins to decline leaving us in our (slightly foggier) ‘oxytocin enriched’ brain.
However within this space, you become much more open and ‘emotion sensitive’, being able to empathise with and interpret non-verbal cues from others and especially from your baby who is yet to be able to use language to communicate. This ‘feminine’, emotional, compassionate and loving part of your brain is now fully open making you incredibly sensitive to the feelings and needs of those around you and especially your baby who is so dependent on you. You bond more easily with others and are more trusting and loving in your relationships.
This is also a time of great brain plasticity where we have the potential, given the right oxytocin rich environment, to learn how to effectively multi task, gain new mothering skills and embrace our new role with intuition and confidence rather than anxiety and stress.
For all of this to happen however we need to welcome and nurture our ‘Baby Brain’ rather than try to push it aside or reduce it. The two main enemies of Oxytocin are stress (including lack of sleep & hunger) and too much rational thinking. Therefore to facilitate its production we (and those looking after us) ideally need to create an environment that is as relaxed and stress-free as possible during the last few weeks of pregnancy and over the post partum period, ensuring that we have plenty of rest, support and nurturing ourselves.
So the next time you forget your best friends name or leave your phone in the fridge you can be reassured that your beautiful ‘baby brain’ is working as it should and you will emerge out of the other side with a brain that has changed profoundly and for the better. You will have a ‘Mummy Brain’.