Is “mom brain” real?

By Alanna Iacovetti

Mom-brain, pregnancy brain, momnesia — whichever way you refer to the brain fog and difficulty focusing that some moms experience during pregnancy and after birth, there’s a real explanation behind it. 

For about 8 months after I had my baby, I forgot where I left my darn keys every time I put them down. Names and random words would slip my mind. If I didn’t set several reminders for a doctor's appointment, I missed it. I always assumed that my forgetfulness was due to the overwhelming amount of responsibility that I took on with a new baby, and maybe that was part of it … but there’s more.

According to a growing body of research, there’s a scientific reason why some people experience this aggravating side-effect of motherhood. During pregnancy and after labor, our brain changes and adapts to the huge transition of becoming a mom. Our grey matter, which is involved in sensory perception, memory, emotions, decision making, and more, decreases in certain parts of our brain and increases in others.

Pregnancy results in changes to maternal physiology and brain that may extend into older age. New results show that pregnancy-induced reductions in gray matter volume remain 2 years after childbirth in humans.

While that might sound scary, rest assured: You’re not losing your mind. This change seems to help us hone all of the necessary skills that we need to keep our babies safe. We’re not being careless or making excuses. Our brain is simply learning to focus on the more important things. 

Research shows that postpartum growth in the amygdala, hypothalamus, and substantia nigra is associated with positive feelings about your baby. And growth in the prefrontal cortex may help a mother make the many, many decisions she faces every day as well as manage her emotions.

It could be that the brain regions that shrink aren't as important to caring for a newborn. So your brain puts more energy into growing those regions that do matter.

The changes that our brains go through during pregnancy help to prepare us for motherhood. Our bodies are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. So write that to-do list. Set that reminder. Mom-brain doesn’t stay forever, and there are ways to manage it. Be patient with yourself. 

Being a mom is like nothing else in the world. It’s no wonder that our brains need to adapt to that!

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