It’s beyond time to rebrand the concept of “mom brain”. The reductive term has too many negative connotations and isn’t even accurate. Instead, it’s important to focus on the positive changes in our brains after we become mothers, a recent commentary in JAMA Neurology states.

Even though memory loss and brain fogginess occur in many pregnant and postpartum women, the label of “pregnancy brain” or “mommy brain”—that suggests mothers exist in a perpetual state of cognitive dysfunction—isn’t true, says Clare McCormack, PhD, a research assistant professor at New York University Langone Medical Center. 

“Our knowledge of the maternal brain is actually surprisingly limited,” Dr. McCormack tells Motherly.

She doesn’t dismiss the cognitive challenges that can come with motherhood. But she points out a new way to think about them—and shares research supporting all the amazing changes happening to women’s brains once they become moms. 

Understanding mothers’ brains

You’re not alone if you feel more brain fog or forgetfulness since having your child, Dr. McCormack says. 

“Unfortunately the negative notion of ‘mommy brain’ is pervasive, so it is also possible that any moments of forgetfulness could be readily interpreted as a sign of some deteriorating abilities, without necessarily appreciating new skills or achievements at the same time,” she adds.

She’s not wrong. I personally experienced a lot of forgetfulness since having my son—I attribute it to the increase of stress and decrease in sleep. While I felt OK calling out my own deficits, I did feel a little defensive when others pegged me with “Oh, that’s just mommy brain.” (Personally, my angst was more about how they dismissed it, and less about them insinuating that I was having cognitive trouble and knew it.)

The possible difficulties we face if we’re experiencing those symptoms could be part of a bigger picture—one that’s about adaptation to motherhood instead of brain deterioration, she says.

Dr. McCormack’s team highlighted some research about the positive changes in mothers’ brains after having children. One of the positive shifts is better neuroplasticity, which is how the brain forms new paths to refunction. (A lack of neuroplasticity is linked to cognitive decline.)

Her team points out that our brains change as we learn how to care for our kiddos and keep them alive. (Doesn’t sound like cognitive decline to me, sounds like a superpower, actually.)

“When we reframe what ‘mommy brain’ is, and draw attention to the amazing adaptations that are involved in becoming a parent, we may encourage curiosity about how exactly this happens and begin to give the parental brain the credit it deserves.”

Clare McCormack, PhD

Most maternity-related gray matter volume changes still exist six years after childbirth. This leads us to believe that motherhood permanently changes the brain, according to Valerie Tucker Miller and Amanda Veile, two authors of a report in Current Psychology that found mothers had better executive control attention compared to non-mothers. (Their study did find that moms and non-moms had similar alertness and orientation.) Miller was a PhD student when their report was published in 2020, and Veile is an assistant professor—both are from Purdue University.

Interestingly, when they controlled for sleep quality and quantity, it didn’t affect their findings. Moms who were, on average, about 10 years older than non-mothers still had faster executive control attention. 

Biological motherhood changes social cognition; meaning that the changes allow mothers to attend to their child’s cues. It likely has “far-reaching effects on other social connections as well,” Miller and Tucker told Motherly in an email.

“We understand mommy brain as a culturally mediated phenomenon with known neurobiological underpinnings. We also recognize a mother’s perception of her cognitive change is her reality regardless of its biological origins,” they added. 

Why our brains shift

Miller and Tucker think struggles with forgetfulness are very real for new moms—even if researchers do not have the scientific evidence to “prove” how or why it is happening at a neurological level, they said. 

“It is likely related to lack of sleep, stress, lack of support, feeling overwhelmed, financial duress, U.S. maternity leave policies, poor diet, conflicting demands… the list could continue. Each plays a crucial role in mothers’ self-reported forgetfulness.”

Valerie Tucker Miller and Amanda Veile

Rethinking the term ‘mom brain’

So yes, you may feel like your brain is on a permanent vacation, mama. And there are changes—and let’s be honest, stressors—that can hamper your brain power. But at the same time, it’s actually getting stronger. 

In the meantime, Dr. McCormack is right—maybe we can use the term “mom brain” a little less. Or, when we do, remind ourselves that having a mom brain is its own superpower, after all. 

Featured experts

Clare McCormack, PhD, a research assistant professor at New York University Langone Medical Center

Valerie Tucker Miller, PhD candidate at Purdue University

Amanda Veile, PhD, associate professor at Purdue University




Hill N, et al. Plasticity in Early Alzheimer’s Disease: An Opportunity for Intervention.Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, 2011. doi:10.1097/tgr.0b013e31821e588e.

McCormack C, et al. It’s Time to Rebrand ‘Mommy Brain.’ JAMA Neurology, 2023. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2022.5180.

Miller V. et al. Assessment of attention in biological mothers using the attention network test – revised. Current Psychology, 2020. doi:10.1007/s12144-020-00826-w