Welcome! You have a new brain!
Brain Changes in Pregnancy
Does your brain change in pregnancy? Yep. It truly does. Your brain volume decreases in the 3rd trimester (hi, where did I leave my keys?!). So, yes, pregnancy brain is real.
A study published by Nature Neuroscience reveals that there is remodeling of the brain during pregnancy, and this remodeling can last for at least 2 years after giving birth! They found that gray matter changes in the brain regions associated with social cognition and theory of mind, which is the part of the brain that helps us think about what is going on in someone else’s mind (hi, baby!). These brain changes were so clear that a computer algorithm could detect which women in the study had been pregnant.
Many of these change stem from the increase in sex steroid hormones such as progesterone and estrogen. There is only one other time in life when our bodies produce such a large amount of these hormones- and it’s in puberty.
The brain changes associated with pregnancy is thought to help women transition into motherhood. As a pregnant woman or new mother you have new priorities, different tasks to complete, and your brain needs to adapt. While we now know this is normal, it can also feel overwhelming (think of what it felt like to be a teenager. Yesh!). This transition can feel overwhelming for any number of reasons: you have hormonal changes, brain changes, identity, relationship, or career changes. It’s a lot to take in and it takes time to find your footing.
What Can You Do?
No matter how prepared you are for pregnancy and motherhood, no matter how much you desired it, it will be stressful. This is normal. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you for having a hard time adjusting to something you wanted or prepared for. Knowing there is a slow transition into motherhood, that it is something to be expected can help you identify times when you need help. There is no shame in reaching out to friends or family for support as you transition into motherhood (even if it’s a year after your child’s birth!).
Remember adolescence? It was awkward. Transitioning into motherhood, yea, it’s also awkward. But, who wants to be told “it’s ok to feel awkward” when you’re right in the middle of feeling super awkward? Or worse, when you feel like you’re failing and can’t hold it together anymore. Here are a few tips from Alexandra Sacks, MD on how to create a plan for yourself during this transition.
Name what is bothering you (“In the third trimester my legs started to swell more and I was easily wiped out after an hour.”)
Consider the change — how is your distress related to the recent change? How does this change impact you specifically and conflict with your familiar identity? (“I wanted to keep running around, but my body just wouldn’t let me.”)
Acknowledge the feelings related to this role change (“It was really frustrating.”)
Come up with a constructive plan, when you’re ready to accept new circumstances to make this change work for you (“I decided to focus on making a Pinterest page.”)
The main takeaway during this time is this: Don’t bottle up your feelings, know it’s normal to feel like you’re a different person, and reach out for help! Feel free to send me a message if you’re in the slumps, feeling confused, or just want someone to talk to. We got this, mama!