Le « Mommy brain » : véritable brouillard ou ultra focus maternel ? - Élhée

The “Mommy brain”: real fog or ultra maternal focus?

Mommy brain when pregnant, you may have already felt it without clearly identifying it. In recent years, the term has tended to become more popular and appears in numerous scientific publications and women's press articles. Mommy brain (mom's brain), mamnesia (maternal amnesia), baby brain (baby's brain or dedicated to baby) or even brain fog (brain fog), although the expressions vary, the phenomenon remains the same: a feeling of permanent fog which leads future and young mothers to numerous omissions. An effect of pregnancy that continues into the postpartum period, which we invite you to explore together in this article.

Mommy or baby brain, it's all in the brain!

In 1956, the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst who originated the concepts of transitional objects and transitional spaces, Donald Winnicott, identified what he then called the "primary maternal concern". According to her research, this exclusively feminine state of mind could be at the origin of the "fog" and sluggishness felt by new mothers.

Today, the mommy brain rather evokes this pre- and post-birth period during which young mothers can encounter difficulty concentrating , have the impression of being constantly off the mark and experience frequent forgetfulness . Appointments, words, first names, keys, glasses… everything goes and above all everything is lost. Mothers who experience this brain fog speak of it as a permanent fog that makes it difficult for them to organize their day and their ideas . But in practice, what do we know about this confusion?

Jodi Pawluski, Canadian neuroscientist and author of the book “ The super powers of the mommy brain ” published in 2022 by Larousse, introduces new maternal feelings such as a brain that runs in slow motion or the sensation of having given birth a baby literally capable of sucking out your neurons . 😯

Brain structure changed by pregnancy

a young mother and her infant - the maternal brain

The neuroscientist, also a researcher at the University of Rennes, indicates that 80% of women experience this “mmnesia” to varying degrees. And for good reason, if the mechanisms of the mommy brain remain more or less obscure, one thing is certain , the very structure of the female brain changes, and this, from the first months of pregnancy . We talk about perinatal neuroplasticity.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers have actually seen increased gray matter neuronal functional connectivity during pregnancy . An increase in activity which is, however, accompanied by a reduction in the volume of gray matter in different regions of the cortex as well as a change in the organization of neuronal networks . However, Doctor Pawluski is not talking about “loss”, but rather a sort of “rearrangement” for a new focus , entirely or almost entirely turned towards the baby . A reorganization that could be lasting (at least two years after giving birth) and perhaps even permanent. Various studies carried out elsewhere also suggest a link between the evolution of maternal brain structure and the mother-child relationship .

Imaging has for example shown that, during pregnancy, the parietal lobes (linked to empathy) and temporal lobes ( dedicated, among other things, to auditory perception, the receptive components of language and emotions ), take up more space.

Neuroscience in support of better understanding

It therefore seems that the female brain is making a real transition to motherhood , that it is preparing to help you tame parenthood.

This is in any case part of the point made by Lucie Joly, psychiatrist and head of adult perinatal psychiatry at the Saint-Antoine, Pitié-Salpêtrière, Tenon and Trousseau hospitals in Paris and by Hugo Bottemanne, also a psychiatrist at the hospital. de la Pitié-Salpêtrière and researcher at the University of the Sorbonne and at the Brain Institute, in their joint book “ In the brains of mothers ” published in 2023 by Éditions du Rocher.

Their specialty? Perinatal neuroscience (where biology and psychology converge) and the study of the brains of mothers and their babies. Thus, the two scientists confirm that the female brain is indeed capable of evolving from the first weeks of pregnancy and well after.

Based on the hypothesis that these brain changes accompany the development of mother-child attachment , they also suggest a possible link with certain emotional difficulties associated with pregnancy such as baby blues or postpartum depression .

Mummy brain, for its part, can be explained in part by hormonal production capable of slowing down the renewal of neurons , particularly in the hippocampus, where memory is located. Hormones are also responsible for the emotional storm of postpartum and the depression that accompanies it for 20% of young mothers.

How long does the mommy brain “fog” last?

Memory loss, forgetfulness and confusion can begin in the first trimester of pregnancy and reach their peak in the third before finally disappearing in the months following childbirth. However, the effects of mommy brain could extend well beyond, up to two years or more after the baby is born .

Mommy brain, the superpower of being a mother?

the baby brain

But then, “mamnesia” would only have disadvantages? Would nature have done the things that future and new mothers navigate on sight in an ocean of doubts and questions? Not only that. 😉

For Jodi Pawluski, the mommy brain is all about the maternal superpower, which focuses on the partial restructuring of the brain for new learning and for a total focus on the unborn baby and his needs .

If certain areas of the female brain are altered, such as that of communication, it is to better develop others, such as that of empathy and emotions which helps mothers to better “capture” the non-verbal signals of their child.

Thus, mommy brain, however confusing it may be, would be a symptom of matrescence , its upheavals and all the difficulties it causes. And because all power implies concessions, we should not forget fatigue, maternal exhaustion in certain cases, which adds to the confusion felt and its foggy effect .

However, like any symptom, brain fog has its soothing remedies. If you feel overwhelmed or out of sync since baby was born, remember that this is normal , and remember some small actions that will make your daily life easier.

5 extremely useful tips to better experience Mommy brain

If the paths that lead to mommy brain are numerous, the methods to relieve it are just as many. By combining them, you can find a certain balance, or in any case, better understand what you are experiencing.

  • Establishing a routine that is even more routine than usual will help you find your way and forget less. After the birth, focus your organization on your baby (how else?) and write down everything useful in a diary . It's tedious, but, at least for a while, you'll have a schedule to fall back on. At home, write lists !

  • Asking for outside help is another good idea to find your bearings more easily. Ask your parents to come stay with you for a few weeks or hire a doula . These birth aids are particularly valuable for mothers and their babies.

  • Diet is another lever to help you get back on your feet. Eat fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, sardines or anchovies, rich in omega 3 and DHA , the main fatty acid present in the gray matter of the brain. Indeed, studies have shown that DHA preserves the ability to learn and memory.

  • As at each stage of pregnancy (and even throughout life) rest cures many ailments . While it is certainly not the key to everyone, relax, meditate, practice sophrology, hypnosis or self-hypnosis, sleep as much as you want before the birth, and as soon as you can afterward. Passing the baton to dad, to your parents... is also a good way to refocus and find your words.

  • Training your brain is useful at any age. If memory problems are plaguing you (and if you can find the time), practice crosswords, arrows, shuffles, or sudokus to put your battered gray matter to work.

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