We’ve all heard the saying before, and possibly even used it ourselves as an excuse for something clumsy or silly we did, but is there such a thing as baby brain? Well, it seems there may be! Scientists have discovered a number of ways that our brains literally change during pregnancy and for years after giving birth, but probably not in the way you might think.
While it’s true that you might become a little more clumsy or forgetful when you fall pregnant, there’s actually a lot more to it than that. Recent research into brain activity and function shows that during pregnancy and after birth, we no longer think in the same way, or even use the same parts of our brain. For a lot of women, learning this probably explains a whole lot about how different they felt the very first time they became a mother.
The Reality Behind Baby Brain
Every mother is likely to experience this phenomenon at least once in their lifetime: you leave your car keys in the fridge or walk into a room forgetting what you were supposed to do there. Those who have been there before will laugh it off and tell you it’s just baby brain, but did you know this phenomenon is actually a real thing?
Studies into brain function during pregnancy show that mothers lose volume in the hippocampus area of their brain, which is the region responsible for memory. This means that you might find yourself more forgetful than usual, but it also has another helpful function.
A reduction in grey matter in the prefrontal and temporal cortex allows women to forget painful or traumatic experiences in childbirth or pregnancy, making it more likely that they would return for subsequent pregnancies. This all points to a fascinating mark of evolution and the desire for humans to procreate. If you’ve ever wondered why you gradually warmed to the idea of having another baby after having had a previous particularly unpleasant labour experience, this could be why.
How Our Brains Change With Pregnancy
Just as these radical hormone surges are the cause of forgetfulness, studies have found they’re also responsible for our brain losing grey matter to give way to other neural networks. These networks are more specialised in processing and responding to social signals, which in turn makes us more in tune with our maternal instincts.
The same studies, published by Nature Neuroscience, found that the more grey matter lost, the stronger a bond felt between a mother and her baby, as it gave way to new areas being developed. This leads researchers to believe that when we become pregnant, our brains simply adapt and mature to meet the new needs and responsibilities of motherhood.
What these Changes Mean For Science
While it’s all well and good to finally get the official nod that pregnancy and motherhood do indeed change the way we think, what good could these findings do for the medical and scientific community?
Well, for starters, it’s a great indicator of just how valuable pregnancy can be for a healthy woman’s body with a whole range of benefits to be had.
However, for researchers of conditions where emotional response is poor, such as autism, these hormonal changes and deeper connections experienced during pregnancy and motherhood could be used to help. Although the studies are relatively new and there’s still a lot to learn about the human brain, these findings indicate some exciting things.
Embrace Your New Brain
With all the doubts and worries about our bodies changing when we become mothers, you probably never gave much thought to your mind changing as well. It’s nice to know that these positive changes can help us to hone maternal instincts, and sharpen our senses to make us better parents.
It makes sense that with our bodies working overtime growing new life and supporting our expanding waistline, our minds are bound to struggle a little to keep up. The good news is, nobody can really hold you accountable during this time so it’s okay to have a few mind blanks now and then. In the end, it’s all for the greater good and helps us to become even more in tune as parents, something you can remind others of next time you put the milk back in the cupboard.
Becoming a parent can be challenging at the best of times, especially when it feels as though you’re (literally) losing your mind, so it helps to know you’re not alone. For more insights into pregnancy, breastfeeding, and motherhood, we invite you to read more from the Peachymama blog.