So as you know I am back at work (baby O is 11 weeks old now), and surprisingly the thing I am struggling most with isn’t leaving my baby everyday (although obviously that does affect me) but instead my rubbish memory and inability to string structured sentences together!
I work directly for the Group CEO of my company – so need to be on my A game everyday. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. On a daily basis I now forget basic words, my mind goes blank at crucial moments (like in meetings) or I don’t understand pretty simple and straightforward questions.
I have a degree, a masters and a handful of other qualifications – so I know that I’m not stupid! And besides, I used to have a great memory before having baby O.
So, the question is: does baby brain really exist?
At the moment I average two night feeds, so clearly I’m not getting enough beauty sleep, which will inevitably have an affect on my brain function. But is this the only reason for my memory slip?
It has been suggested that baby brain first rears its ugly head during pregnancy. I seem to have been lucky enough to have missed that part, but wow do I seem to have it now.
So what does the research say?
Anti baby brain
Researchers writing in The British Journal of Psychiatry say that “baby brain” does not exist. Australian National University followed 1,241 women over four years to track the quality of their memory and half the women in the sample became pregnant. However, researchers found that the expectant mums were no less likely than other women to have memory difficulties, or to have a worse-off memory than before they were pregnant.
On the fence
Diane Farrar, a midwife from the Bradford Institute for Health Research, said: “Forgetfulness and slips of attention are phenomena commonly reported by pregnant women, but scientists have yet to identify a specific mechanism by which this memory impairment might occur. Altered hormone levels during pregnancy may affect brain regions involved in memory processing.”
Pro baby brain
Helen Christensen, PhD, of The Australian National University comments: “If you read pregnancy manuals and listen to pregnant mothers – yes, there is such a thing as pregnancy brain or momnesia, and there is also evidence from research showing deficits in memory.”
Apparently “there are 15 to 40 times more progesterone and estrogen marinating the brain during pregnancy, and these hormones affect all kinds of neurons in the brain,” adds Louann Brizendine, MD, director of the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco.
She also added: “By the time the woman delivers, there are huge surges of oxytocin that cause the uterus to contract and the body to produce milk… and they also affect the brain circuits.”
Laura Glynn, a psychologist at Chapman University, California, suggests that women’s brains change during pregnancy so that they will be better able to concentrate on their newborn’s needs after the birth: “there may be some cost of these changes – such as absent-mindedness – but the benefit is a more sensitive, effective mother.”
Obviously lack of sleep is also going to play a huge factor in forgetfulness for mums and pregnant ladies too. Julie Henry, a psychologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney said: “Sleep deprivation is also going to be a relevant factor post-pregnancy that could affect cognitive performance.”
Another argument regarding baby brain and forgetfulness is to do with a shift in priorities. So I know my IQ has not changed (well I hope it hasn’t), but my priorities obviously have. Brizendine says: “You only have so many shelves in your brain so the top three are filled with baby stuff!”
So there you have it, the arguments for and against baby brain theory. I could have delved much deeper and researched further, but not sure my baby brain could have handled it ;)
Whatever you choose to believe, one thing is certainly true: I’m definitely suffering from memory issues! This obviously isn’t ideal when back in the workplace. So, here are my tips for trying to hide the baby brain blunders:
Write lists… and LOTS of them
I always have a list on the go now – it’s the ONLY way I can make sure I don’t forget anything. I’m a fan on the paper and pen list (old school!) but also try the memory and reminder apps. Remember the Milk is quite a good one.
TRY and get more sleep!
I know, I know! But if you CAN, do try and nap and sleep. Even if it’s just grabbing an extra 30 minutes here and there, it’ll make a HUGE difference. See if your husband can cook dinner one night, and you have a nap while he’s cooking. Or try going to bed earlier and let your partner do the last night feed.
There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers
My boss swears by this motto, and it’s true. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for more information if you’re just not “getting it” or understanding something. It shows that you care about your job and wanting to do something right.
Don’t be so hard on yourself
I need to take my own advice with this one. If you say something silly, or you forget something, then just move on. Don’t beat yourself up over what you should have said, or what you should have done.
You’re not superwoman but you are super-mum. You have two full time jobs now and you should be proud of that.