What Is Mommy Brain?

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Do you ever walk into a room only to forget why you went in there? Have you ever been searching frantically for your cell phone or your keys, only to find that they are in your hand? Or maybe you call your dishwasher the washing machine or blank out on the names of your coworkers. If you are experiencing any of these things, it is likely that you have "mommy brain."

Even though "mommy brain" may sound like a fictional condition or a convenient excuse for forgetfulness, it is actually a true condition backed up by science. In fact, research shows that a mother's brain is impacted by having children, sometimes in long-lasting ways.

For instance, a study by the University of British Columbia demonstrated that motherhood has a permanent impact on your cognitive function.

Meanwhile, a study in Nature Neuroscience found that even two years after pregnancy, women had gray matter brain changes. These changes took place in regions involving social cognition or the ability to feel empathy for another person. In other words, some subtle aspects of memory are sacrificed to enhance other areas of cognition.

There is even some evidence that the brains of fathers are affected as well. In one study, researchers scanned the brains of new fathers (and mothers) while they watched videos of themselves interacting with their babies.

Consequently, the researchers noted an increase in activity in the amygdala, aka the part of the brain responsible for emotional processing. In fact, the more involved fathers were in taking care of their newborns, the more their amygdala looked like the mothers'.

What Causes Mommy Brain

While it goes without saying that the demands of caring for a helpless newborn combined with sleep-deprivation is a major factor in the brain drain that is experienced by so many new mothers. But, scientists have discovered that there is more to it than that. For instance, there is a neurobiological change in a woman's brain both during pregnancy and after, which impacts verbal memory.

Many researchers hypothesize that these changes are meant to better equip a new mom with the ability to care for her baby. In other words, these brain changes allow new mothers to adapt and zoom in on the needs of the baby.

And, when their focus becomes so narrow and intense, it stands to reason that the periphery will become a little blurrier. Consequently, if you are experiencing the effects of "mommy brain," there is no cause for alarm. What you're experiencing is a normal part of motherhood. Trust that your brain knows what it is doing—and that it is adapting to your new role and equipping you to be a better mother.

How to Cope with Mommy Brain

Besides feeling foggy, many new moms report being forgetful. They lose ideas mid-thought or details completely escape them. They also may struggle to remember appointments or forget to return phone calls. They may even forget the name of their spouse or call their dog by the baby's name. Some have found their car keys in the refrigerator and others report walking into a room and forgetting why they went in there in the first place. You name it, and new moms have probably experienced it.

What's more, not every woman's experience with "mommy brain" is the same. Some women will feel more alert just a few months after delivery while others will struggle for years. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, dealing with "mommy brain" is no picnic. Here are some tips for coping with the effects of this brain drain.

Be Patient

The biological changes you are experiencing are normal and are your brain's way of adapting and evolving so that you can become the best mom you can be. While the side effects are sometimes annoying, remind yourself that there is a reason behind the madness. Give yourself room to make mistakes in areas that probably are not the end of the world.

With a little planning and some extra effort, you can successfully manage the forgetfulness that comes with "mommy brain."

Make Lots of Lists

Forgetfulness is a given for most moms experiencing "mommy brain." As a result, the best way to deal with the fact that you can no longer remember everything is to make lots of lists.

Keep a pad of paper or a lightweight journal with you to keep notes on everything from the last time you gave the baby ibuprofen to the fact that you need to buy diapers the next time you're at Target. Then, when you have time organize your notes into actionable lists. For instance, you might have a to-do list and a grocery list.

You can also use your phone to set reminders and alarms. The key is to do it as soon as you think of it. Putting it off only increases the likelihood that you will forget.

Plan Ahead

Give yourself time to get things done or to get out of the house on time in the mornings. If your baby has a visit to the pediatrician the next day, pack what you need the night before.

Keep your keys and wallet in the same place every day. For some people, this means hanging them on a hook as soon as they walk in the house while others toss them into a decorative bowl.

Whatever method you use, stick to it. Nothing's worse than running around the house searching for your keys and your wallet when you're running late. Rushing just increases the likelihood that you will forget something.

Develop a Routine

When you have a plan for the day, it gives you some structure and predictability. It also frees up your brain to think about other things rather than mentally trying to plan your day. Consequently, try to get some sort of schedule going as soon as you can.

In other words, you might begin with an early morning feeding, put the baby down for a morning nap, then snuggle back into your bed to make up for the lost sleep the night before. When baby wakes, you might feed again and then put the baby in a bouncy chair while you take a quick shower. Then, the two of you head downstairs and you put baby in the swing while you get a bite to eat and so on.

Think about what might work for you and then develop a basic routine. Just don't force yourself to follow it to the letter. You need to be flexible as your baby's needs will change. But having a rough routine each day will give your brain a break and help curb the forgetfulness and brain fog.

Think about what might work for you and then develop a basic routine. Just don't force yourself to follow it to the letter. You need to be flexible as your baby's needs will change.

Having a rough routine each day will give your brain a break and help curb the forgetfulness and brain fog.

Ask for Help

One of the biggest mistakes new moms make is to think that they have to do everything on their own. Involve your partner as much as you can. And, if family or close friends live nearby you can ask for their help, especially if you feel like you need a break.

Most people are more than willing to stop by for an hour or two and hold the baby while you take a much-needed nap. You will be surprised how a little extra sleep can improve your memory and make you more alert.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep deprivation is a huge factor in forgetfulness. Your brain needs rest in order to process all the new information it has taken in throughout the day. If you are not getting adequate sleep—which can be a challenge with a newborn—you will pay for it with brain fog.

If you and your partner can manage, take turns with the late-night feeding. Or, if you are breastfeeding ask your partner to change the diaper before bringing the baby to you. This way, you can rest a little longer before feeding the baby.

Boost Brain Health

Aside from exercising and eating brain-boosting foods like blueberries, broccoli, and turmeric, there are a number of ways to boost your brain's abilities. For instance, you could do crossword puzzles, read challenging publications, or play brain-training games like those provided by Happify. You also could try downloading a word game app to your phone to play for just a few minutes a day.

Whatever methods you choose, doing something that improves memory function will help combat the forgetfulness that "mommy brain" causes.

Make Time for Yourself

As hard as it may be, it is vital that you take just some time for yourself every day. Even if it's just a hot, uninterrupted shower, it's important that you have time to disconnect from the responsibilities of being a new mother without worrying about the baby, the house, your job, or whatever else is competing for your time and attention.

A Word From Verywell

If you're struggling with "mommy brain," take heart in knowing that you're not alone. Every mom has been there at one point or another. What's more, there's evidence that suggests "mommy brain" is not only normal, but could be extremely beneficial to both you and your baby.

And while you may never return completely to your pre-mom brain, your new brain—spaciness and all—may very well end up making you a better parent in the end.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.