Is “Mom Brain” a Real Thing?

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Your days used to click together like a well-oiled machine, but ever since you became pregnant or had your kid, you can’t remember where you left your keys, words are always on the tip of your tongue, and you’re repeating yourself and forgetting simple tasks. What’s going on?

Like many pregnant women and new moms, you may have a case of “mom brain,” also known as pregnancy brain, baby brain, and momnesia. The primary complaints include becoming forgetful and disorganized and feeling “foggy.”

But there’s hope. Understanding what causes mom brain, focusing on ways to stay organized, and re-setting your expectations will help you combat this exasperating phenomenon.

What causes mom brain?

A meta-analysis in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Neuropsychology examining the evidence around subjective reports of memory issues in pregnancy and postpartum mothers found that executive functioning (your ability to organize and plan) was disrupted in pregnant and postpartum mothers.

There are biochemical reasons for this—postpartum and breastfeeding hormones can leave you feeling like you’re experiencing a very extreme case of PMS—but it also can be situational. Babies are completely dependent and require your full attention much of the time. Add sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion, and the anxiety of being a new mom to the mix, and it’s a miracle you’re functioning at all. This effect is only compounded if you’re breastfeeding, which can leave you feeling constantly tired, dehydrated, and hungry.

Another possible contributing factor: Pregnancy hormones can cause functional brain asymmetry. A study by Royal Holloway at the University of London found that pregnant women start using the right (emotional) side of their brains more than the left (logical) side, making them more sensitive to emotional cues in preparation to bond with their babies. If you feel less focused, this could explain why–and it may extend to the early years of your child’s life.

How long does mom brain usually last?

It depends. Hormonally, your body can return back to “clinical normal” once you stop breastfeeding, but some women report still feeling some cognitive confusion after they stop. Additionally, non-hormonal issues that can contribute to mom brain continue long after breastfeeding. Introducing a tiny human (or more than one!) into your life means doubling your responsibilities, often in the context of interrupted sleep and/or sleep deprivation, so it’s natural to feel overwhelmed from time to time.

But there’s good news: A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that women with children past infancy are more efficient at work. Gauging the performance of nearly 10,000 economists based on how much quality research they published, researchers found that over a 30-year career, women with children outperformed women without children, with mothers of two or more being the most productive.

Will it get better after my first child?

For most moms, juggling a toddler and a newborn means the challenges increase. However, your coping mechanisms have developed since your first child, so mothers usually are better equipped to manage with baby number two. That being said, more kids means more details to manage, so the stress will still be there.

What can I do to help improve my focus?

These three strategies can help you stay organized and on track:

  • First and foremost, focus on one thing at a time. Then, adjust your expectations accordingly. Multitasking has been found to compromise performance rather than increase efficiency, so rather than spending an afternoon running errands at the supermarket, post office, cleaners, and drugstore all at once, focus instead of completing one or two tasks per outing.
  • Build a structure and stick to it. Make sure everything has a specific place and stays there—your keys, your jacket, your purse. Make lists and keep a calendar. Being habitually organized will help you stay focused and efficient–and you can always reduce the structure later on if you don’t need it.
  • Use technology to stay organized. Apps like Evernote, Any.do, and IFTTT can help you keep track of everything from daily tasks and appointments to your grocery list. Set reminders on your phone for things you tend to be forgetful about, from eating lunch, to winding down for bed.

And finally: Be kind to yourself when you don’t accomplish everything the way you used to, or on the same schedule that formerly worked. Your life is different now, so it makes sense to evolve with it.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.

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