What is Mom Brain? Here’s What You Should Know

Yes, it's real.

Regardless of your parenting status, chances are you’ve heard the term “mom brain” before—an endearing nickname for the mental fog or haziness that is associated with the postpartum period. While some people might use the phrase jokingly, most moms can attest to the fact that it is most definitely a real thing.

It might not be an official condition that you can find in a diagnostic reference manual, but it’s definitely a common occurrence—and something even most health care providers acknowledge to be a real part of the postpartum period. “There are certain biological and situational factors that can cloud a mom's mind, especially during the first year postpartum,” explains Kate Borsato, Registered Clinical Counsellor based out of Victoria British Columbia specializing in perinatal mental health. “People will often refer to forgetfulness, being late or scattered, being overly emotional, or preoccupied with children as ‘mom brain’ simply because many moms experience these things at a similar life stage, which points to very real factors that impact mood, mental health, and cognitive functioning.”

What Causes Mom Brain?

According to Borsato, a woman’s brain starts changing early in pregnancy thanks to a surge in hormones, estrogen and progesterone. “It becomes hyper-focused on the safety and wellbeing of the baby, which is actually an incredible biological shift that happens and is certainly helpful for survival,” she explains. “You'll hear moms talk about the intense focus on preparing for their baby, nesting, and planning which again makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective.” During this period of time, many moms experience an increase in anxiety and worries—uncomfortable emotions that actually come in handy to protect their unborn child.

Once the baby is born, sleep deprivation coupled with the increased demands of caring for a newborn, kick in. “Our ability to think, make decisions, remember, and plan is limited, as there's only so much cognitive capacity that we can draw from at a particular time,” Borsano explains. “If mothers are allocating mental energy to worries, planning, preparing, and caring for a new baby, they will have less cognitive capacity for other things.”

What Moms Should Know About Mom Brain

Unfortunately, mom brain is just another postpartum symptom that most moms will have to deal with, but knowing what it is, what it feels like and how to cope with it can be helpful. Here are tried-and-true tips from mental health experts.

Be kind to yourself

If you find that you’re feeling extra forgetful or foggy, be gentle with yourself. “I can’t think of a mother who hasn’t told me (in one way or another) that being a mother is an extraordinary and life-affirming experience and at the same time extremely challenging,” says Michelle Kambolis, M.A., R.C.C., mind-body health specialist, registered therapist, meditation teacher and author and speaker. “If we are to foster an honorable and fulfilling relationship with ourselves as mothers, we need to be able to take care of ourselves and each other—to give ourselves profoundly compassionate attention.”

Don’t overdo it on caffeine

A morning cup of joe is necessary for many of us, but sipping too much throughout the day can actually be counterintuitive. “It has been shown to inhibit the region of the brain that regulates anxiety while it over-stimulates the region that alerts us to threat-this hijacks our ability to process information,” says Dr. Kambolis. “Although cutting out your coffee habit may seem unthinkable, decreasing your intake over time is one of the simplest (and safest) ways to support your nervous system.”

Focus on one thing at a time

This might sound like an impossible task for a new mother, but Borsano says that it can go a long way in helping you cope with your mom brain. “If you feel like you're reaching your mental limit, allow yourself to focus on one thing at a time rather than switching direction,” she says. “Each time you change focus, you lose mental energy making the transition.”

Rely on time-honored systems

Rather than relying on memory alone, Borsano suggests setting yourself up for success by relying on some time-honored systems, such as calendars, creating to-do lists, and even simply establishing routines that will take the daily decisions off your mind. “Anytime you can take away the need to remember and rely on a device or a well-versed habit, will help you reserve mental energy for other tasks,” she says.

Remember this is temporary

You will feel like yourself again. As chaotic as this period of your life may feel, it’s only temporary. “Many new mothers feel overwhelmed with fatigue and fogginess and wonder if they will ever return to normal,” warns Emily Guarnotta, PsyD, clinical psychologist in New York state and blogger at The Mindful Mommy. This stage will not last forever and over time and with additional rest, you will begin to feel better.

Image Source: Macy Pruett

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