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Do You Have Short-Term Memory Loss After Childbirth? Here’s How to Fix it

What is “mum brain”, and do you need to worry about it? Learn more about postnatal short-term memory loss and how to feel like yourself again.

New mother holds a crying baby while holding her head and closing her eyes with a tired expression.

Short-term memory loss soon after childbirth, sometimes called “mum brain”, is common, normal, and nothing to be ashamed of. Pregnancy, delivery, and caring for a newborn are among the most amazing yet challenging things a person can experience. Momentarily forgetting the name of your spouse or your phone PIN code is not unexpected during this time.

Sleep deprivation, fatigue, and caring for a newborn can alter the working of the brain. This logical explanation does not discount the fact that postnatal brain fog can still be difficult for new mothers. Fortunately in Malaysia, our cultures recognise the period after childbirth as a time of healing for the new mum.

Let’s look at postnatal short-term memory loss and how new mums can get through this challenging time. 

Short-Term Memory Loss: What Is “Mum Brain”? 

“Mum brain” refers to the forgetfulness experienced by about 80% of mothers in late pregnancy and postpartum. The condition feels like the short-term memory loss many occasionally experience when exhausted. Usually associated with normal ageing, short-term memory loss could also result from severe sleep deprivation and exhaustion. New mothers typically lose a lot of sleep while caring for their baby, resulting in “mum brain”. 

The research that came out of the debate on whether “mum brain” is real has given us other answers. Yes, there is a decrease in grey matter in the brains of new mothers, affecting verbal recall soon after birth.

Research also shows that mums with the largest drop in the grey matter have the warmest relationships with their babies. A 2021 Psychoneuroendocrinology study revealed that mothers and fathers performed equally well on working memory tasks during pregnancy and after childbirth.

In other words, mothers’ brains adapt and change to help them perform the new task of caring for the new human they just birthed. Short-term memory loss is just part of this transformation. 

Caring for the Baby Means Also Caring for the Mother: Do It With TCM 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), new mums are encouraged to observe a four to six- week postpartum period. It is called “sitting the month” (zuo yue zi, 坐月子), also known as confinement. Borrowing from the philosophy of care behind zuo yue zi, here’s how new mums can recover from short-term memory loss. 

Ask for help so you can catch up on sleep

New mother sleeping in bed while holding her baby.
Getting sufficient sleep is essential for overcoming your “mum-nesia” or short-term memory loss.

Sleep deprivation is likely the biggest culprit causing your short-term memory loss. Your baby needs care, but you also need quality sleep to function optimally. The pressures of modern-day womanhood may make you feel like you’re supposed to figure it out yourself. but you should discard this expectation.

Across different cultures in Malaysia, family members usually come together to support the new mother while she rests, recovers, and rejuvenates. Sometimes, confinement nannies are hired for this. Embrace this. Ask for help to care for your baby so you can get some shuteye. 

Help your body heal with nourishing medicinal foods  

Confinement in TCM is based on a philosophy of healing and nourishment. The body is depleted of warmth, having spent the past nine months nurturing the foetus using yang (warm, active energy). The first three weeks of “sitting the month” focus on replenishing depleted qi (vital life energy) and blood, as well as nourishing yin (cool, passive energy). The mother takes time between caring for the baby and herself, with the help of others. The second week focuses on improving breast milk secretion, and the third is strengthening the physique. 

In the last stage of confinement, the mother is encouraged to eat foods that increase vitality, including repairing skin and hair, as well as mental acuity. Try energising soups like Ten Herbs Soup (Shi Quan Da Bu Tang, 十全大补汤) and Herbal qi Restoring soup (Zhuang Yao Pei Yuan Tang, 壮腰培元汤).  Bak Foong pills (bai feng wan, 白凤丸) can also help nourish post-partum women and restore balance in the body.

Rebalance with acupuncture 

TCM also recommends acupuncture during postnatal care. Working on the body meridians in this period can help with breast milk production, mastitis, pelvic pain, and other ailments. It can also help with fatigue, anxiety, and hormonal imbalances, which could be contributing to your impaired memory. Acupuncture has also been shown to help treat and stave off postpartum depression slightly better than anti-depression, with no side effects.

Give yourself a break 

Try not to worry about whether you’ll get back to your pre-pregnancy body and brain. You’re a new person, and your body is doing what it needs to do. A 2021 sociological study looked at how mothers experience the discussion on “pregnancy brain”. The study revealed that this cultural framing adds even more stress to new mothers, making them question their competency. In other words, fixating on “mum brain” is equivalent to stressing about stress. 

Husband hugs his wife while they both lovingly look at their newborn baby.
TCM views short-term memory loss, among other things, as completely normal in new mothers who need the time and space to recover and rejuvenate.

Trying to remember the word for something or what you ate for breakfast this morning can be frustrating. Temporary short-term memory loss as a new mother is normal and part of your transformation. You’ve just given birth to a baby that grew inside you for nine months and are about to embark on the journey of caring for this child. Be kind and care for yourself. 

This is an adaptation of the article “一孕傻三年,是真的?“ which first appeared on the Health123 website.

References

  1. New York Times. 2021. ‘Mommy Brain’ Is Real. [online] Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/14/parenting/mom-brain-forgetfulness-science.html> [Accessed 30 Nov 2022].
  2. Washington Post. 2021. Is there really such a thing as ‘mommy brain’? [online] Available at: <https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/mommy-brain-changes-fogginess/2021/10/08/bd6ff7b6-0b4e-11ec-9781-07796ffb56fe_story.html> [Accessed 30 Nov 2022].
  1. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2021. Working memory from pregnancy to postpartum: Do women really change? [online] Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453021000433> [Accessed 30 Nov 2022].
  2. Frontiers in Sociology. 2021. Mombrain and Sticky DNA”: The Impacts of Neurobiological and Epigenetic Framings of Motherhood on Women’s Subjectivities. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8076589/> [Accessed 30 Nov 2022]. 
  3. Harvard Health Publishing. Memory. [online] Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/memory> [Accessed 30 Nov 2022]. 
  4. StatPearls. 2022. Short Term Memory Impairment. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK545136/#!po=58.6957> [Accessed 30 Nov 2022].
  5. National Institutes of Health. 2013. Sleep On It: How Snoozing Strengthens Memories [online] Available at: <https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2013/04/sleep-it> [Accessed 30 Nov 2022].
  6. Pacific College of Health and Science. A TCM Approach to Nourishing the New Mother: Acupuncture & Dietary Therapy For Postpartum Healing. [online] Available at: <https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2018/04/30/tcm-approach-nourishing-new-mother-acupuncture-dietary-therapy-postpartum> [Accessed 30 Nov 2022]. 
  7. Pacific College of Health and Science. The Maternal Tradition of “Sitting the Month”: Traditional Chinese Medicine Postpartum Care. [online] Available at: <https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2021/09/28/the-maternal-tradition-of-sitting-the-month-traditional-chinese-medicine-postpartum-care> [Accessed 30 Nov 2022].

 

 

 

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