Shifting Gears: The Power of Mommy Brain

Shifting Gears: The Power of Mommy Brain

We’ve all heard the term – mommy brain. We thought we were effective adults before we had a baby and one day we wake up drool-soaked, covered in milk, wearing our pyjamas for the third day in a row, and we cry over the cell phone bill because we don’t understand it.

Or we call our partner to come home early because there’s no dinner, nothing is cleaned up, and we just found our breakfast in the cupboard and our clean coffee cup empty on the stove.

We think we’ve lost it and describe ourselves as having “mommy brain,” sometimes with a smile, but more often with a wry frown, a sense of apology, and more than a little guilt. What have we done wrong? Why aren’t we getting this? How did we possibly think we could parent and carry on being an adult, going back to work, or school, or life, and why are we failing at the basics?

Take a step back and see that you’re not failing at the basics because right now you’re completing far more basics than you’ve ever done before. Quite the opposite of mommy's brain being negative, it’s time we started seeing it as the incredible positive that it is.

Starting during pregnancy, and then a huge amount postpartum, your brain actually turns on connections that have never been active before, your brain gets bigger, “stretchier,” and stronger than it ever has been before.

Why, then, does it feel like you’re getting stupider?

Well, here’s the thing: while your overall brain is getting stronger, you’re actually rerouting a lot of connections and doing things you’ve never done before.

Picture yourself driving a car smoothly down the highway. As you accelerate you automatically switch to higher gears, 4th, 5th, 6th. This is your brain on adulthood, learning to use the higher gears of your brain. What happens though when you have to drive through loose gravel or a wet section of road? Sliding on ice? Most of us know to “down-shift” and put the car in low, or 2, dropping down into a lower gear.

Why? Power!

A car in low gear has more torque and more power to the wheels. For a short time, you get a much stronger car – a car that can accomplish things that it can’t when it’s cruising at high speed.

Do you turn the engine off? No! In fact, your engine is working harder than it ever has.

Think about the last time you had a hard day with your baby. Did you feed, and change, and carry, and bounce, and swing all day? Did you carefully drink your tea sideways around your shoulder while nursing? Did you yell at your spouse to get the thing, and the other thing, and that thing-you-can’t-remember-the-name-of-right-now off there and hand them to you now now now!?

That’s because your brain has more power than it has had since you were a baby yourself. You have neuroplasticity. Brain “plasticness” is how stretchy your brain is, how it can move and change with the times – in this case, baby care and handling. Not since you learned to walk, talk, and ride a bike have you been as stretchy-brained as you are now. You will learn to feed and dress and sleep two new bodies – yours and the baby’s! – in just a few of the most intense days of your life.

This new brain also grows a new ability to care as well as to do. The parts of the brain that regulates motivation, foresight, planning, reward – yes, and love – grow and stretch too.

All this ability to learn new things comes at some cost. Remember those high gears? They won’t be as accessible while you’re powering through those first baby days. The gears aren’t gone through, you’ll find after some time that your high gears are right where you left them.

And behind them now is a more powerful engine. An engine full of love and the ability to listen to and care for your baby. You have the power of Mommy Brain, the most powerful brain of them all.

Photo by Jean-Rémy Duboc on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

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