Every mom will tell you that pregnancy and motherhood change you on all levels. Some of the more difficult changes that pregnancy causes are a frustrating mental impairment and cognitive slowing. These changes are also known as baby brain, mom brain, momnesia, or preg head.
Previously simple tasks may now take you hours to complete. You often have to read and reread the same paragraph over and over again. And your keys seem to have grown legs and never stay in the place where you remember putting them.
Baby brain has multiple causes. Some of them (e.g. nutrient deficiencies) can be addressed and others (e.g. brain remodeling) mostly just need to be accepted. Read on to learn more about the causes of baby brain and how to improve it.
Baby Brain Cause #1: Building A Second Brain
During pregnancy, you are in fact building a second brain – your baby’s. This takes an immense amount of nutrients. If you don’t ingest enough nutrients for two, your brain and your baby’s brain both suffer.
Essential nutrients for building brains include EPA, DHA, choline, vitamin D, folate, and more. To fortify both mom’s and baby’s brains during pregnancy and the postnatal period, I always recommend supplementing with a quality prenatal vitamin AND Omega-3 supplement.
Baby Brain Cause #2: Brain Remodeling To Make You A Better Mom
Being a mom requires a unique type of brain: a brain that is more attuned to your baby than to the rest of the world. Our bodies naturally change our brain’s physical structure during pregnancy! Research shows that the more that mom’s brain changes, the more she is able to be sensitive to the needs of her baby. Brain remodeling also helps new parents become quick learners when it comes to baby’s needs.
Unfortunately, these brain changes can slow down mental processing speeds and make other non-parenting tasks more difficult, especially those requiring time awareness, working memory, and linear thinking. There’s also evidence that these brain changes may make new mothers more susceptible to mental health and mood disorders.
In my opinion, the first step to deal with brain-remodeling-related cognitive changes is to foster self-compassion and self-acceptance. Getting help early for any mental health concerns that come up is also important as is communicating your struggles to supportive family, friends, and colleagues who may be wondering why things are different. Herbs that enhance cognition and brain health, like gingko, gotu kola, and lion’s mane mushroom may help with mental performance.
Baby Brain Cause #3: Sleep Deprivation & Stress Induced Cognitive Dysfunction
Sleepless nights, new tasks, societal pressures, potential relationship stress, and extra new-baby expenses, coupled with less brain power overall can lead to the perfect storm of exhaustion and overwhelm for new moms. Studies have shown that high levels of stress and fatigue can lead to executive dysfunction symptoms that mimic those of ADHD. If you already deal with ADHD, your symptoms may be exacerbated beyond the point where you’re able to cope with them. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider for help.
Stress management, social support, and increased quality sleep are the ideal solutions for fatigue and stress induced executive dysfunction, but sadly that is often out of reach for even the most well-supported and well-resourced moms.
Good nutrition, time in nature, joy, fun, and adequate hydration are all important for executive function. Herbs that support adrenal function like ashwagandha, cordyceps, and rhodiola may help with the physical and mental effects of stress.
Baby Brain #4: Constant Interruption & Overwhelming Multitasking
It is well known that multitasking impairs brain performance. Most people are able to work with some degree of interruption and multitasking; however, when parenting small children, interruption and multitasking can reach levels that make it feel impossible to complete a task from start to finish.
When paired with the above causes of baby brain, the natural interruptions caused by the needs of babies and small children can contribute to the feeling that your brain just isn’t performing as well as it used to.
Finding and protecting uninterrupted stretches of time when you can do mental work is essential, especially if you’re a mom working from home. Fueling your brain with optimal nutrition and hydration can help, too. Aim for complex carbohydrates, colorful fruits and veggies, plenty of water and hydrating herbal teas, plus supplements that improve brain function.
Pregnancy and motherhood change our brains to make us better learners and more responsive parents. Unfortunately, these changes can make it difficult for our brains to perform other tasks and they may make us more susceptible to mental health problems. We can do our best to keep our brains functioning optimally by managing stress, sleep, and interruptions. We can support our brains by ensuring optimal nutrition, hydration, and supplementation.
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