Teach Me

Is “Mommy Brain” A Real Thing?

What was I saying again? Where are my glasses [as they sit on your head]? How do I spell my child’s name?! Why can’t I find my phone [as you talk on the phone with your spouse]?!

Have these questions—or something similar—ever crossed your mind? For some moms, you may chalk these questions up to “mommy brain,” “momnesia” or a plethora of other nicknames. For other moms, it can be scary. It may feel like you are losing your mind. With the changes in your hormones, lack of sleep and the ever-present thoughts of your young children, it’s easy to see why all moms feel like their brains aren’t firing on all cylinders.

We invited Lydia Hostetler, DO, a Banner Health Clinic specializing in Obstetrics and Gynecology to share some thoughts on the topic of “mommy brain.” She had some good news!

“While there may be a perception that ‘mommy brain’ is causing memory loss, there is actually no scientific evidence to show any mental impairment,” said Dr. Hostetler. “It’s perfectly normal to have memory lapses or forgetfulness. When you aren’t getting good sleep and are multitasking, nobody’s memory is good.”

So, what’s the science behind “mommy brain” and how can you manage symptoms? Dr. Hostetler offered some comforting advice.

No, You Aren’t Losing Your Mind

Although we don’t know all the reasons or ways that pregnancy changes the brain, we know there are changes on a cellular and physical level, Dr. Hostetler commented.

“Mothers often perform at their baseline cognitive level when tested and compared to other non-pregnant women. However, they may feel they are underperforming or being forgetful,” she said.

Some obvious influences of the brain and its function have to do with hormones and sleep changes. We can experience these influences outside of pregnancy in different ways—think PMS, all-night studying or jet lag. New connections and rewiring of the brain, called neuroplasticity, occurs throughout our life as we learn or experience new things, so pregnancy is no exception.

Studies of brain imaging have shown there are adaptions of the brain that occur after pregnancy. These include an increase in areas that have to do with empathy, which makes sense with caring for a new human being with such high demands. These are positive adaptions that show pregnancy can actually help us mentally prepare for motherhood.

Some research has also shown these changes in fathers or adoptive parents. “We will likely continue to learn more about how pregnancy influences the brain as we continue researching these changes,” Dr. Hostetler said.

How long will “mommy brain” last?

“Patients I have spoken with often report ‘pregnancy brain’ improves after delivery, followed by the onset of ‘mommy brain.’ They joke their brain never really seems to fully recover,” Dr. Hostetler said. “It’s very individualized to the person, so it’s hard to pinpoint how long.”

Tips for tackling “mommy brain”

If “mommy brain” will be around for a while, Dr. Hostetler shared some comforting advice to help get you through it:

  1. Write things down or set reminders. “Hey Siri, remind me in one hour …” Jotting things down or setting phone reminders can really help and are perfectly normal—whether you have kids or not. The human brain can only hold about seven bits of information in working memory at a time, though it can obviously store a lot more than that if needed.
  2. Get more sleep. This one will definitely make most parents chuckle, but a lack of sleep has negative effects on just about everyone. One study found that it takes six years before new parents get a good night’s sleep again—probably more if you have multiple kids. So, catch some z’s when you can!
  3. De-Stress. You may not be able to avoid stress, but you should take time to manage it. Take a walk. Read a book. Find a few minutes to just breathe. If you can’t get a second to yourself, unwind with your kids. Sit down and color with them or read a good book. This time can help you re-center and focus.
  4. Be patient. Allow yourself the space for your head to make these amazing changes and adaptations. Take heart knowing you aren’t alone, and there’s evidence that it’s not only normal but it may also be beneficial.

When should you get concerned?

Remember, it’s completely normal to have memory lapses and forgetfulness. But, if you have concerns that the brain fog is not clearing or you are feeling symptoms of insomnia, hopelessness, tearfulness, anxiety or other symptoms of depression, talk to your doctor.

“The hyper focus that happens when you have a new baby, can cause an increase in the guilt of caring for yourself or paying attention to the other things in your life,” Dr. Hostetler commented. “If you are also suffering from depression or post-partum depression, these feelings can be intensified. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure if what you are experiencing is more than a normal adjustment.”

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms schedule an appointment with your provider or find a Banner Health specialist near you.

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