Is motherhood feeling overwhelming? Did you leave your keys in the freezer again? Are you crying at the drop of a hat? You are not alone, and all of these changes may not be a bad thing.
Recovery after birth is so much more than just physical. There is a strong emotional and mental component that make up the healing process. Women who invest in themselves during this time period reap a lifetime of benefits. Most all cultures around the world respect this time period of healing and honor the postpartum mother. However, the growing trend is to return to work and workouts as quickly as possible. This social pressure may be linked to the mounting expectation women carry into motherhood. Unfortunately this expectation and rush to return to normal life can be the root cause of the rising rates in postpartum mood disorders and postpartum depression.
What happens to our brains during the postpartum healing time? Other than swimming in oxytocin and endorphins, our brain goes through a shift that lays the groundwork to care for your children. If you already have children, or you have taken care of children in the past, you know this is no simple task. During the perinatal period, the brain is carving out space for more empathy and attention to detail. Because what is more important that raising the human race? Many people categorize this sudden forgetfulness or inability to concentrate as baby brain or mommy brain. Let me encourage you to follow physiology and in this case, neurology. If the brain is changing, know it is for the best and you are preparing mentally to care for your baby the rest of their life.
Let's take a look at two foundational changes to the brain that happen during the pregnancy and postpartum process.
Hormonal. Yes, we have all heard of this amazing LOVE hormone, oxytocin. Researchers speculate that oxytocin — a hormone present in mothers during labor, pregnancy, and nursing — might play a role in keeping women from developing bad memories about the experience (Heinrichs, Meinlschmidt, Wippich, Ehlert, & Hellhammer, 2004). Just think of it as nature's way of making you forget the negative experiences and do it all over again. While there are a cocktail of hormones surging throughout the body during the postpartum period, oxytocin may be the main culprit in sudden forgetfulness for new moms.
Neurological. Did you know there are structural changes in the brain that can last up to TWO years?! Researchers in Barcelona found through MRI studies that there were noticeable changes in two main areas in the brain before and after giving birth.
The first major area of change was seen in the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that allows us to experience the world. After birth, the prefrontal cortex activity is heightened. This increased activity allows us to be present with our babies and it also increases emotions such as empathy and care taking. Our increase in focus on our newborn babies can lead to the tendency to not be present in reality with other things. For example, imagine yourself postpartum changing your baby's diaper and you just can't find that diaper anywhere. Then come to find out, the diaper was in your hand all along. Our sole focus on baby may be to blame for the seemingly absentmindedness that new moms face. This however is not a bad thing. Nature knows what it is doing. Your brain changes as you become a mother, and your main focus whether you consciously know it or not, it to care for that baby. Even if it means searching all day for your sunglasses, only to find them on your head hours later.
The amygdala is another area of the brain that MRI studies saw major changes. What exactly is this weird sounding, walnut shaped structure in the brain? The amygdala is where all of our emotions are processed. After birth, studies showed a major increase in amygdala activity. This may explain along with the surge of hormones why some mothers may become overly emotional at the drop of a hat. I used to cry when a Maytag commercial came on. Every. Time. An interesting study also showed that not only mothers had an increase in amygdala activity, but fathers did as well. So dads, you too have an excuse to feel all of the emotions. No one is talking about "Daddy brain", but neuroscience tells us it is a real thing for both mom and dad.
The next time you are down on yourself because of leaving your keys in the refrigerator or being an absolute space case, remember that nature is changing your brain to focus on the most important thing--your new sweet baby.
Here are a few tips if you are experiencing "mom brain" that may help during the postpartum period:
Nourish. Most cultures around the world nourish the new mother for 40 days postpartum. The healing power of foods during this vulnerable time cannot be dismissed. For cognitive health and overall mood support make sure to be eating healthy fats (avocados, coconut oil, ghee, etc). Be sure to also eat warming foods to heal such as healing bone broths.
Try making my favorite postpartum drink: The Mama Mocha
-almond Milk (my favorite is MALK)
-raw cacao (for replenishing magnesium)
-maca (an energizer + hormone balancer)
-raw honey (for enzymes and minerals)
-brewers yeast (B vitamins + lactation aid + helps replenish red blood cells)
-ghee (with pink Himalayan sea salt for healthy fats and energy)
Another favorite postpartum drink is the Green Coconut.
-8oz of coconut water
-scoop of spirulina
-drop of chlorophyll
Drink these first thing in the morning for the best start to the day.
2. Rest. Yes I know sleep is hard to come by during this phase of life, but it is a necessity. It is where our brains come to recharge and heal. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to even more symptoms of mommy brain. Take your time, ask for help, and take care of you first because you cannot pour from an empty cup.
Reach out to me personally for any questions or follow along on IG @drcourtneygowin