Your Brain on Baby: Mind-Altering Impact of Motherhood

//Your Brain on Baby: Mind-Altering Impact of Motherhood

We all remember the famous anti-drug ad, right? The one where a guy holds an egg and tells the camera, “This is your brain,” and then proceeds to crack it over a hot skillet. As the egg sizzles and pops on stove, he delivers the now iconic phrase, “This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?”

In the months following the birth of my daughter, I felt connected to that poor little egg on a spiritual level. I wasn’t on drugs, but oh.my.god did my brain feel like that frying huevo. I had struggles with anxiety and depression in the past, but this was something completely new. I felt like my neurons were constantly firing, flashing from overwhelming joy to paralyzing fear in an instant. I felt a tremendous shift in my identify and a crushing loneliness, always followed by intense bouts of guilt. I cycled through all of these emotions 10 times over before I even pulled myself out of bed. And I’m 100% certain that if you’re a mom, too, you know what I’m talking about.

This is your brain on baby.

brain on baby - theCityMoms

During pregnancy, birth and the early days of motherhood, our brains undergo dramatic — and lasting — neurobiological changes. Our brains are literally physically transformed by the process. From a July 2018 article in the Boston Globe:

Women experience a flood of hormones during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding that primes the brain for dramatic change in regions thought to make up the maternal circuit. Affected brain regions include those that enable a mother to multitask to meet baby’s needs, help her to empathize with her infant’s pain and emotions, and regulate how she responds to positive stimuli {such as baby’s coo} or to perceived threats.

After learning that, my ability to go from weeping with joy to panicking about air quality quicker than my hair falls in humidity made a lot more sense. Our brains have changed to make us hyper-vigilant, as well as more empathetic and connected toward our baby than we have ever been toward another human being. No wonder it feels like my brain is on one of those carnival rides that throws you from side to side. Thanks, hormones! But those aren’t the only changes. It’s long been known that pregnancy shrinks your brain, (seriously, brain?), but a 2016 study published in Nature Neuroscience found that those reductions in our gray matter persist even two years after childbirth — which means we’ll probably never get them back.


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Sounds bad, right? Well, maybe not. The areas of the brain that shrink are associated with our ability to attribute emotional and mental states to other people. But this study found that the greater changes women experienced in this region of their brain, the higher they scored on emotional attachment to their babies. The thought is that this area of our brain isn’t shrinking as much as it is honing in on one very important thing: our babies.

So yeah, it’s no wonder the first few months {and years} of motherhood make your brain feel like an egg frying on a skillet. Just like that egg is shrinking and changing, so are our brains. Having a baby is a transformative experience in every sense of the word. We are changed from the moment we see those blue lines — altered body, mind and soul. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, when you think about it, it’s pretty cool. Not only did our bodies create a friggin’ human being, but they also made big changes to our brains to help us care for said humans. And yeah, it’s hard. You can expect major changes to your neurobiology to be unnoticeable. But it’s just part of the job. And as far as I’m concerned, being a mom gives you permission to be a little scrambled — because who wants a raw egg anyway?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kim Shrack - theCityMomsKim Shrack is a Hoosier native who returned to midwest in 2015 after several years on the East Coast.  She is mama to one little babe and owner of design studio Manayunk Calligraphy.

Hobbies include sewing, baking, HBOing and drinking outdoors. When she isn’t momming or drawing, you can find her ordering excessively complicated espresso drinks at coffee shops around the Circle City.

2018-10-04T16:30:14+00:00October 4th, 2018|
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