Surviving "Mom Brain"

by Dr Megan Gray, MD, OBGYN

If you are a mom, 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?

The answer is not so simple, but I can assure you, 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.

Research published in 2016 describes visible changes in the brain scans of women during pregnancy, and lasting up to two years after delivery. 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 can also explain why postpartum women have more intense emotional responses in general. Do you know any other mamas who can no longer watch movies, TV shows, and commercials that have anything to do with children in distress?

The foggy feeling many women describe as “mom brain” is likely the result of a combination of sleep deprivation, preoccupation with other tasks and thoughts, and endless distraction. A new mom goes from just thinking of herself, her partner, and her job, to suddenly thinking of a new baby with all of the associated necessities that this completely dependent little peanut comes with, on little to no sleep, and a hyper-emotional brain. Who wouldn’t feel a little forgetful and overwhelmed under these conditions?!

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. Your brain has undergone physical changes to make you the best mom you can be, 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, seek help from your physician or midwife.

2. Make lists. Lots and lots of lists. Find a good app on your phone or do it the old fashion way with pen and paper. Write everything down and don’t leave home without it! Lists are your friend!

3. Give yourself time to get tasks done. Rushing intensifies the feelings of fatigue and absent-mindedness. 

4. Plan ahead. No more flying by the seat of your pants. Invest in a good calendar you can share with your partner. Make it a habit to prepare for the next 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. A rested brain is a more functional brain.

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.