Mommy Brain: Fact or Fiction?
Dr. Kailey Fargo, D.C.
If you’ve carried a child (or know someone who has), you will be familiar with the term “mommy brain,’ which encompasses a potentially drastic change in mood, emotions, and memory. This can happen during pregnancy and throughout the many years following the birth of the child. But, is this notion backed by science or just a nice excuse used by the sleep-deprived mama?
A study was recently performed at the University of Barcelona that put this idea to the test. Brain scans were performed on first-time mothers before and after pregnancy to analyze the physical changes of the brain. The primary finding was a significant decrease in the amount of gray matter. Gray matter is responsible for the processing and release of new information and enables a person to control memory and emotions. Perhaps even more interesting was that these changes in gray matter were still present two years after birth when the same women were scanned again.
When I read this, I immediately thought negatively of this big brain change that happens to new mothers. But, upon further research, the loss of gray matter is not necessarily a negative thing. The region of the brain that experienced the most loss involves social recognition, particularly helping a woman think about what is going on in someone else’s mind. This is the region that had the strongest response when mothers looked at photos of their infants and is involved with attachment. Think of the volume loss as a fine-tuning of connections. There is no real explanation as to why women lose gray matter, but researchers believe it may be because their brains are becoming more specialized in ways that will help them adapt to motherhood and respond to the needs of their baby. As a parent, you will now be needing to solve slightly different adaptive problems, slightly different cognitive problems, have different priorities, and perform different tasks and, therefore, the brain must change.
So, this one has been debunked by science. Moms, go ahead and blame mommy brain for your lack of focus and emotional instability because there is a physiological explanation for this one.