Mother's ruin? 'Baby brain' is simply a way of preparing women for motherhood

So, 'baby brain' is real, psychologists say. Phew, says Charlotte Philby, but along with the mind fog, nature also gave mothers masterly powers of empathy and multi-tasking

Anyone who was listening carefully yesterday may have heard a collective sigh of relief from mothers across the land as news broke that "baby brain" is not only an actual thing – keep up, ladies – but that it is nature's way of helping women prepare for motherhood.

According to psychologists, who announced the results of their study at the British Psychological Society's annual conference yesterday, hormones activated during pregnancy help a woman fine-tune the intuition she requires to understand the needs of her infant.

Explaining how changes in the brain during pregnancy are designed to help mothers prepare, Dr Victoria Bourne, at Royal Holloway, University of London, said: "There are changes in how the brain processes facial emotions that ensure that mothers are neurologically prepared to bond with their babies at birth."

At first sight, these claims might seem surprising. As a mother of two young children, who regularly finds herself saying "oh what IS that word?", it is certainly reassuring.

Maternal amnesia definitely feels very real and rarely feels productive. It also seems to last rather a long time. Certainly among my mother friends, of the many things we miss about life before children, it is the loss of our brains we lament the most. (I often warmly recall the time a friend who'd recently had a baby told me she absent-mindedly brushed her teeth with haemorrhoid cream.)

And yet, is it really that surprising that when we are preparing to have a child, nature steps in to help us divert our attention away from certain areas and towards slightly more pressing matters such as learning to put someone else's needs before your own for at least the next 18 years? Or even that it can seem to last well after the baby's first months? What is more surprising, perhaps, is that we continue to punish ourselves for it, focusing on our personal shortcomings rather than giving ourselves a jolly good pat on the back for all that we have achieved.

In my experience, so-called maternal amnesia is almost always self-diagnosed and tends to come from women who are used to excelling in more tangible ways: those in high-flying jobs, or who travel the world. It is always the ones who I look at and think "how the hell does she manage it all?" who complain of befuddled brains while simultaneously recovering from physical traumas of birth and coping with sleep deprivation, (usually) remembering doctors' appointments, weigh-ins, play-dates, the supermarket shop, endless washing, older kids' parents' evenings, birthday presents, new shoes, show and tell, doctor's appointments, school lunch money, what's causing that rash... And often on top of a full or part-time job. All with little thanks.

While the rewards of parenthood are bountiful, they are also quiet. Rarely does a child look up at you and mutter, "thanks so much for spending the past three months going to our local swimming pool every night after work to see if there are any spaces in the swimming class, as they don't offer a waiting list". Or, "I really appreciate that you've chosen to take six months away from your job to look after me, despite the nagging fear that when you go back you will be short-changing me while your employer will probably have written you off for that promotion".

So really, the idea that what we begrudgingly dismiss as "baby brain" is actually our body's way of diverting attention to where it is needed most as we learn to re-prioritise in preparation for the responsibility of a new life and all that entails, shouldn't come as much of a shock. While we may lose the odd word, we've gained rather a lot of skills, not least multitasking, empathy and problem-solving. And that is good news for our children, our friendships – and our employers.

News
US comedian Bill Mahr
people
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Sport
football
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Life and Style
Models – and musicians – on the catwalk in Dior Homme for the men’s 2015/16 fashion show in Paris
fashionAt this season's Paris shows, various labels played with the city boys' favourite
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us