If you feel like your short-term memory took a hit after giving birth, you’re not imagining things. There’s a perfectly good explanation for your mom brain. Despite being frustrating to deal with, it’s designed to help you care for your baby.
Read on to learn more about what causes mom brain and simple tips to help support your memory (and sanity!) after baby is born.
What Is Mom Brain?
“Mom 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 aging, 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 “mom brain.”
Research shows there is a decrease in grey matter in the brains of new mothers, affecting verbal recall soon after birth. Moms with the largest drop in 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, mother’s 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.
How To Overcome Mom Brain
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), new moms are encouraged to observe a four to six-week postpartum period. It is called “sitting the month” (zuo yue zi), also known as confinement. Borrowing from the philosophy of care behind zuo yue zi, here’s how new moms can recover from short-term memory loss.
Ask for help so you can sleep
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. Ask for help from family and friends to care for your baby so you can get some shuteye.
Heal your body with nourishing 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 fetus using yang (warm, active energy).
- The first three weeks of confinement 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 energizing soups like Ten Herbs Soup (Shi Quan Da Bu Tang) and Herbal qi restoring soup (Zhuang Yao Pei Yuan Tang).
Bak Foong pills (bai feng wan) 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.
Acupuncture has also been shown to help treat and stave off postpartum depression slightly better than anti-depression drugs, with no side effects.
Remind yourself that you’re doing enough
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 “mom brain” is equivalent to stressing about stress.
Remember To Be Kind To Yourself
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.
- New York Times. 2021. ‘Mommy Brain’ Is Real. [online] Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/14/parenting/mom-brain-forgetfulness-science.html>
- 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>
- Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2021. Working memory from pregnancy to postpartum: Do women really change? [online] Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453021000433>
- 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/>
- Harvard Health Publishing. Memory. [online] Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/memory>
- StatPearls. 2022. Short Term Memory Impairment. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK545136/#!po=58.6957>
- National Institutes of Health. 2013. Sleep On It: How Snoozing Strengthens Memories [online] Available at: <https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2013/04/sleep-it>
- 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>
- 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>
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