During pregnancy, and in the months (and years…) after your baby is born, you may experience, or be told that you are experiencing, something commonly referred to as ‘Baby Brain’. Sound familiar mamas?
So is Baby Brain a real thing or is it just hearsay? We asked our friends over at Heights, a brain wellness company dedicated to providing sustainable, scientifically-proven nourishment for your brain, to discuss and shed light on this frequently used moniker. Read on to find out more…
“Baby Brain is most definitely a real thing.”
It is a result of the mass influx of hormones in your system during pregnancy and early motherhood. This is the most hormonal upheaval you’ll experience in your adult life — as some hormone levels will be 30-70 times higher than normal while you’re pregnant! As a result, some women experience trouble remembering things, poor focus, scattiness and difficulty reading or holding a conversation.
Scientists are now saying that this could be an important process in allowing your brain to adapt to this change of circumstance. While your body is fine-tuning itself into its new role as a mum, your brain may be doing the same thing.
In this study of new parents, MRI scans showed substantial changes in the actual structure of women’s brains. There were reductions in grey matter in the regions responsible for social interaction for at least two years after giving birth.
A reduction in grey matter may sound scary, but don’t panic. While any reduction in the size of your brain may not sound like a good thing at first glance, it could be a sign of focus. “Synaptic pruning,” is a way of eliminating weaker brain connections, leaving a more efficient and more specialized neural network. Similar things happen at other times in life when our brains are subject to a surge of hormones, such as during puberty or menopause.
This physical change in your brain during and after pregnancy is widely regarded by scientists as neuroplasticity — your brain’s ability to grow and adapt throughout your life, in response to new situations or stimuli, like becoming a mum.
However, “loss of volume does not necessarily translate to loss of function,” says Elseline Hoekzema, co-author of the study, “Sometimes less is more.” She explains that the loss of grey matter could “represent a fine-tuning of synapses into more efficient neural networks.” Which could mean that you are better able to laser-focus on bonding with your baby for the first two years postpartum, after which your brain will return to normal.
Another study showed that mums actually have a hyper-awareness to vocal cues, helping to strengthen the communication between themselves and their baby. The regions of the brain responsible for processing emotional sounds showed heightened activity in response to noises from infants, (and adults too). And, the longer the participant had been a mum, the more infant-specific activity showed in key parental brain regions, (like the orbitofrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making, and the amygdala, responsible for the experience of emotions). These incremental differences in brain activity are a physical representation of the dynamic learning process that comes with being a parent. And it’s probably why your mum does always know best!
The takeaway here? Baby brain is actually a good thing.
This method of “synaptic pruning” could be concentrating your neurons in preparation for your new role as a mum. Sure, you may not be able to remember what you had for lunch — but instead your brain is busy honing your skills to connect with and respond to your baby. Next time you forget to do something or someone comments on your baby brain, smile to yourself in the knowledge that your clever body is doing exactly what it needs to do to prepare your for motherhood.
Heights is a brain wellness company dedicated to providing sustainable, scientifically-proven nourishment for your brain, and clever content to take care of your mind too.
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