Yesterday (I think it was yesterday) I left our garage door open all night. Luckily nothing weird happened, no raccoons or way-ward people bothered us. But, this is not the only time I have goofed since the birth of our 4-month old son. Once, I tried to put the almond milk in the cupboard, but I was actually going for the fridge. This has also happened in a similar scenario with the microwave. I also have trouble with thinking of those pesky little words….like “spoon” so instead of saying, “Can you hand me that spoon?” I will say, “Can you hand me that thingie?”
This is Mommy Brain, and I have to admit when I heard others speak about it I really wrote it off as being over-tired or stressed out. But, the more I researched it, I discovered that there are actually physical changes to the brains of moms that contribute to this phenomenon.
Neuroscientists at the National Institutes of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD have published some interesting findings that suggest “Mommy Brain” is actually less of a loss of memory issue and more of a reorganization of the brain. They compared MRI scans of the brains in 19 women after their pregnancy and found that certain areas of the brain actually grew. These areas were all parts of the brain involved with motivation, reward, behavior and emotion regulation.
This brain reshaping may contribute to the motivation it takes for a new mother to take care of her baby and feel rewarded and connected to the child. In mothers who experience depression, or who have trouble connecting to their child, growth in this area of the brain was not observed. Meanwhile, doting moms who gushed, cooed, and felt a strong maternal bond with the infant showed more growth. This research may actually be useful in helping women who fail to bond with their children.
While the pregnancy hormones likely prime the brain to get ready for this reshaping, it is unclear whether changes in the mother’s brain stimulate her motherly instincts, or caring for the child actually stimulates the brain change. It is a sort of chicken or the egg conundrum, or perhaps hen and chick.
What is clear is that brain changes do occur. Will this help you find your car keys or remember the names of your coworkers easier? Probably not. But, it seems that Mommy Brain is not really about recalling details, but really re-prioritizing the world. After all, the new role of being responsible for the growth, development, and wellbeing of another human takes precedence. Other things may just not be that important anymore. Now, where did I park the car….