It's blamed for everything from forgetting your kid's name to putting your handbag in the fridge. Amy Taylor-Kabbaz looks at the latest thinking on 'baby brain'.
Any woman who has been pregnant and had a baby knows how very differently you think and function as a result. Now, a growing school of thought says we need to change the way we regard – and label – this important change to body and mind.
Two things happen to our brains when we become mothers: the first is a decrease in cognitive function, and the second is an increase in empathy and compassion. From the second you fall pregnant, your levels of oxytocin – the 'compassion hormone' – increase, going on to peak during birth, particularly between the birth of the baby and the birth of the placenta, because it helps the uterus to contract and prevents haemorrhage. This oxytocin boost will cause some women will cry during baby commercials while pregnant, but for others, once this compassion hormone is switched on, it never really switches off, but continues to surge so that forever after you will feel more connected and empathetic.
So yes, 'baby brain' gets a bad rap, but at the core of it is the fact that your body and brain are filled with much more important things right now: nourishing and nurturing a newborn and transforming your life to become a mother. A knock-on effect of becoming more compassionate is that you connect with people more easily – that's why mothers' group bonds are often so close, because the oxytocin that's affecting you and your baby flows on to other women sharing the same experience. It also means become much better at interpreting nonverbal cues; obviously, baby doesn't talk yet, so you have to tune into other forms of communication. While 'baby brain' means you feel less on top of things, that's because your brain is filled with much more important stuff – love, compassion and nurturing. That's the real baby brain.
Meet the expert
Julia Jones, Ayurvedic post-partum doula and trainer at www.newbornmothers.com
“I often say that a newborn mother's brain is like a filing cabinet. It's got everything organised, categorised, and alphabetised. But when you have a baby, you have to fit all these new skills into that already full filing cabinet. So you tip the filing cabinet out, and it's a mess, disorganised and chaotic – and this can go on for weeks, or months. Eventually you declutter what’s not essential, figure out what you can lose, and over time, your brain will slowly put back in what it needs, leave some things behind, and find new stuff to file as well. You'll come out the other side with an improved brain, but in the short term, it can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s so important to remember that new mothers need need security, stability, and support.”
Amy Taylor-Kabbaz is a mama of three, journalist, mindfulness and life coach, and creator of the Happy Mama website (www.happymama.com.au). Her book Happy Mama is out now.