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Mom Brain is Real

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Written by Roselin Raj

Is Mom Brain A Real Thing?

Forgetting a doctor’s appointment? Leaving a stroller out overnight?  Walking from one room to the next with no clue as to what you were on your way to do in the first place?  As new parents, we’re shocked to find ourselves losing our memory (and minds) and love to joke about “mom brain.”  But is mom brain really a thing?  Research suggests there is a significant change to our brains after having children.

As mentioned by What To Expect,” The main change the researchers observed was a strengthening in the synapses, the pathways the neurons flow through, in the parts of the brain that interpret and respond to social signals (like facial expressions and actions) in moms after pregnancy. This could mean that pregnancy makes your brain better at understanding your baby’s needs or sensing a dangerous environment for your child.”

What is Mom-Brain?

“Pregnancy-brain” or “mom-brain” is real. The size of the mother’s brain shrinks during pregnancy in comparison to her prenatal and postnatal density. Pregnancy leads to extensive biological and hormonal changes that extend even to the brain. The brain structure is altered with depletion in the gray matter (GM) volume, belonging to the social cognitive region. The alterations caused by the pregnancy hormones to the brain metabolism are responsible for the reduction of the volume.

However, the depletion of gray matter in women during pregnancy was also associated with the adaptive abilities of motherhood. Women with reduced GM displayed an effective overlap of brain cells responding to their new role as a mother with ease according to a study conducted on women who had undergone pregnancy.

In the research conducted by Hoekzema and her colleagues as mentioned in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), “The scientists also used MRI scans to watch the women’s brains work in real-time, as they looked at photos of their own baby and others. Several of the brain areas that had lost gray matter during pregnancy responded with the strongest neural activity to their own babies as opposed to the photos of others.” So, pregnancy reduces the brain cell volume leading to at least two years of memory loss and other symptoms associated with the mom-brain, post-pregnancy.

Effects of Pregnancy-Brain

Reduction in Gray Matter Volume

Pregnancy hormones lead to a change in objective and subjective cognitive skills. The brain shrinks visibly, and health care experts could make out from the size whether the woman has undergone pregnancy or not. The shrink in brain cells in the cognitive region makes it difficult to process and respond to social gestures or signs. This leads to forgetting key information that would likely be accessed if the brain hadn’t endured the hormonal changes of pregnancy. The shrink or elimination of the GM enables women to concentrate or tune themselves to the needs of their baby, which is obviously of the utmost importance.

Loss of Memory

Pregnant women are susceptible to experiencing impairments in certain areas and measures of memory. The two kinds of memory that showed impact are working memory and free recall. Working memory is categorized as a short-term memory that enables remembering conscious experiences like forgetting names, phone numbers or dates.   Basically, processing new information and recalling becomes a problem.

Improvement in Recognition Memory

Contrary to losing memory, research shows an increase in recognition memory. Recognition memory involves remembering familiar stimuli, stored in the memory of the brain. A decrease in free recall is balanced by better recognition memory in mothers during pregnancy.

Apart from hormonal changes, sleep deprivation and stress also play a vital role in memory loss. The growing belly for expectant mothers and taking care of the baby post-pregnancy leads to sleep deprivation and memory loss. Though pregnancy leads to altering brain structure and losing memory, it has many beneficial effects on women. The structural changes in the amygdala and the hypothalamus, leads to better emotional regulation. Women’s brains are reshaped to adhere to the infants’ needs through changes in oxytocin, prolactin, estrogen levels post the birth of their child.

Neuroscientists found that the change in volume of gray matter in the mother’s brain regulates the emotion of motherly love at the sight of the infant. The change is nothing but nature’s way of evolving and restructuring the brain to enable the mother to take care of the baby in the most efficient and affectionate manner. Hence mom-brain is real and indicates that pregnancy is a crucial time of neurodevelopment. Though you may forget most things, your ability to be responsive and responsible parent is enhanced in the process.

While it’s incredibly hard in those early post-baby months, rest assured you will get rest and get your sense of self back.  Write things down to feel more organized and don’t try to do too much.  Set a realistic goal of one to-do item per day (e.g. laundry) and don’t try to overdo it.  Most importantly, when mistakes are made, give yourself a break.


Roselin Raj is a journalist and a writer. She has been writing extensively on health and wellness related topics for a little over a decade now. Besides her professional interests, she loves a game of basketball or a good hike in her free time to fuel her spirits. “Health is wealth” is one motto of life which she lives by as well as advocates to every reader who comes across her blogs.


The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out our Emmy winning children’s series, “Ruby’s Studio” along with our beautiful children’s books,  music, and more.  We want to be a truly helpful parenting tool… For you!

Posted in: Science