Did you know that a mother’s brain changes postpartum?
Yes it’s true mommy brain is REAL!
Today we will talk about postpartum changes in your brain and why these are
“Mommy brain” has become a cultural belief that during pregnancy and after delivery mothers are absentminded, forgetful and easily distracted.
It is time to reframe that!
Mommy brain IS a real thing but in fact mothers are more attentive and have
no decrease in cognitive function!
Sure...sleep deprivation DOES affect your mental functioning. That’s why
pilots and shift workers have work hour limitations for safety. So YES
sleep is an important part of recovery after your delivery!
Feelings of stress and isolation can also affect your mental functioning.
So please seek support and help if you are feeling alone or overwhelmed.
But now we are learning about how hormones also impact a mother’s brain.
More and more research shows that during pregnancy and after delivery your brain actually changes…and in a good way!
This brain plasticity (how the brain changes both
structurally and functionally) exists as a natural physiologic and
evolutionary change mediated by hormones.
These changes are there to help you transition into motherhood and
makes you more attentive to your new baby!
So basically…...mother nature is changing your brain to help you and your
There are certain areas of your brain including the hippocampus which may
decrease in size. This is an area of the brain used in memory.
There are certain areas of your brain which have been found to increase in size, including the midbrain and the prefrontal cortex. These two areas are important in executive functioning, decision making, learning, and regulating our feelings and thoughts.
These changes in your brain are not necessarily a bad thing……
…It DOES NOT make you less capable…in fact, scientists believe this could be the brain's way of reorganizing and specializing. This type of brain “pruning” is also seen during adolescence.
It’s like your brain is reorganizing your priorities before you even know about it!
You may not remember that book or song or movie title…...but these changes help you be more attentive to your baby’s needs.
Oops! Not this time.
Your brain is not just undergoing physical changes but also changes how it works! Synapses (connections between brain cells) are redistributed within your brain.
Researchers used functional MRI to scan the postpartum brain to show
increased blood flow and brain activity to different stimuli.
When your baby cries….they found that it triggered an area of your brain
associated with OCD ( obsessive compulsive disorder) and social emotions
So basically your crying baby activates these neural pathways of
anxiety…even if you have no past or current history of anxiety disorder!
95% of mothers experience some OCD-like intrusive thoughts in the weeks
following birth (according to research by Dr. James Leckman)…... with
thoughts mostly about safety and health.
A mom’s brain is hardwired to have some transient “OCD” type of thoughts.
So if you are worried about if your newborn is breathing at night or
worrying you are going to drop your baby…….. those thoughts are normal due
to the circuitry of your post pregnancy brain.
Scientists hypothesize that this is an evolutionary and adaptive change in
healthy mothers which is important to respond to their babies needs. Your
brain is primed to be more responsive to your baby!
However……… both a
too much or too little preoccupation could play a role in perinatal
mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD)
such as depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.
So you may be wondering …..what If you don’t feel an instant connection and
response when the baby cries…..does that mean your brain is not wired for
1 out of 5 mothers have trouble with bonding
(more to come on this on another day!)
Although these changes in the brain may help you prepare for motherhood it IS NOT a requirement! Changes in the
brain to help this transition to parenthood have been shown to occur in
fathers and in adoptive parents and caregivers.
So this is your brain after baby!
Not a forgetful sleepy thing BUT an alert, dynamic, adapting, and resilient part of your body!
Your thoughts and emotions can be normal and are shared by many.
If you feel alone, unsupported overcome by anxiety or worry or
sadness...know that there's always someone to reach out to - either here at
MaternalWell or your health provider.
*Please reach out to your health care provider or call 911 if you are
having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.