This is the question Heidi Mitchell asked University of Denver neurologist Pilyoung Kim. Dr. Kim has found that not only does a mother’s body visibly change during pregnancy and in the months after delivery, but there is now evidence that her brain undergoes profound transformation during this time as well. And this “gradual neurologic and psychological process” actually leads to improved memory, efficiency, and productivity.
The “foggy mommy brain” may be due to new mothers feeling overwhelmed by their new roles as primary nurturers. This anxiety gradually dissipates as mothers gain confidence in their own parenting skills and babies gain greater autonomy.
Improvement in brain function has an anatomic basis, Mitchell says. Pregnancy actually changes the brain’s structure. The results are dramatic — and positive:
Dr. Kim’s most recent paper is not published, but preliminary results show that the cortical layers, where the connections between neurons lie, become thicker during the first six months postpartum. One of them, the prefrontal cortex, plays a major role in memory, attention, language and emotion. A few months after having a baby, you may even feel smarter, more confident and better able to concentrate on nonmaternal work, whether that be office work or helping a friend.
Parenting is clearly critical work, says the neurologist, since the dramatic growth in the brain that stems from it is not common during any other period of adulthood. “We see this amazing plasticity in the brain during the early months of parenting that leads to mostly positive growth. So I cannot help thinking that the Mommy Brain is ultimately a good thing,” Dr. Kim says.
(Back pat: Dr. Sarah Kohl, Pediatric Alliance — Chartiers/McMurray)