Menu

What happens to a woman's brain when she becomes a mother

Motherhood changes our brains and writer Chelsea Conaboy wants us to know that.

What happens to a woman's brain when she becomes a mother

It's no secret that becoming a mother changes you. When we find out we're expecting we also expect our lives, our sleeping habits, and our bellies and breasts to change.

The one place we don't expect change is in our brains, but thanks to a report in the Boston Globe Magazine, the word is out: The brain changes women experienced in pregnancy are significant.

So why is no one talking about this and how it impacts mothers?

That's the question journalist (and mother) Chelsea Conaboy sought to answer when she wrote her now viral article, "Motherhood brings the most dramatic brain changes of a woman's life."

You've likely seen in it your Facebook feed (and if you haven't, it's definitely worth the read). Mothers have been sharing the story online, posting it along with comments like "I'm not crazy after all!" and "I wish all new moms knew this." One mom simply just wrote "legit" when linking to the piece.

The comments scattered across social media prove that Conaboy investigation into maternal brain changes was needed. And it started because she needed these answers, too.

"It was such an important topic for me because it was something that was affecting me so deeply," she tells Motherly. "And that's how this story really began. I had this experience of basically heightened anxiety after my first son was born and I started looking at the research around women's brains and the transition to motherhood."

When she dug into the neurobiology of the maternal mind Conaboy learned that her anxiety was due in part to powerful maternal brain changes that are "intended specifically to help us do this job of being a parent", she says.

"It really was helpful to me to think of those changes as productive and empowering rather than something that impaired me," she explains.

“Neglected Neurobiology”

As Conoboy wrote for the Globe, "Women experience a flood of hormones during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding that primes the brain for dramatic change in regions thought to make up the maternal circuit."

Parts of the brain that help us multitask, empathize and regulate our responses to stimuli or threats are affected by this surge of hormones, she explained.

It's a really basic, beautiful and powerful change that takes place, as maternal brain researcher Jodi Pawluski told Conaboy, it's one of the most significant biological events in a mother's life.

Conaboy hopes her piece will help more mothers understand how powerful these brain changes are and believes that understanding what's happening to us may help moms reframe and reclaim our experiences, even (or especially) when the changes are impacting us negatively.

"I think we all as mothers or expectant mothers need to be really mindful that things can go wrong and that we need to seek help when that's appropriate and necessary," she says. "There's good, proven treatments and support systems."

A conversation worth having

Understanding how normal all this is can help women feel comfortable getting help, but also just feel more comfortable with what they're experiencing. It might make it less scary, not more so.

Conaboy says she's heard from expecting mothers who have thanked her for helping them prepare for how their mental health may be impacted postpartum, and also from mothers who are already raising children and are struggling, and have thanked her for just helping them understand why.

Until recently, many prenatal care providers were hesitant to address maternal brain changes with expecting mothers for fear of overwhelming patients, but in the wake of her story, Conaboy hasn't just heard from moms who want this information, but also from midwives and doulas who say they're already incorporating this information into their practices and don't find it's too much for patients to deal with.

"It can be overwhelming but I think that's true of anything that happens during pregnancy. Hopefully medical providers are really thoughtful about how they communicate with women," says Conaboy, who recalls how one of her sources for the story, researcher Ruth Feldman, explained that "just because it has to be handled carefully doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about it."

Thanks to Conaboy, women are talking about it online and with each other, even if our prenatal care providers aren't yet leading the conversation.

You might also like:

Nuna

New mama life is often fraught with decision fatigue. From choosing a pediatrician to choosing a baby monitor, it can be difficult to know which solutions are made to last. Fortunately, Nuna just made one very important decision a lot easier. That's because their new MIXX Next Stroller has everything a new parent needs to get out, get around and get everything done.

An upgraded version of their popular MIXX stroller, the MIXX Next features a more compact fold (shaving 6.5 inches off the folded size, down to 27.5 inches long and 23.6 inches wide) thanks to a compact fold-away axle where the rear wheels tuck under the frame when it folds. Plus, the new model also stays standing when folded—meaning no more back-straining as you bend to pick up your folded stroller and heave it into the trunk. Instead, the MIXX Next can be tucked more easily into storage whenever your ride comes to an end.


Nuna Mixx Next Stroller


Speaking of the ride, your little one will love the new rear-wheel Free Flex suspension™ and front-wheel progression suspension technology that absorbs more shock as you roll over uneven terrain. The wheels have also been updated to tough, rubber foam-filled tires for a smoother, more durable ride and the no re-thread harness makes it easy to clip your baby in securely and quickly. And when all those gentle bumps lull your baby to sleep? The seat features a five-position recline that adjusts quickly with one-hand—all the way down to a true-flat sleeper recline—just don't forget to move them to their crib when you arrive home. (Don't forget to extend the water repellent, UPF 50+ canopy to keep those sleepy eyes shaded.) Even better, the all-season seat keeps baby cozy in winter and unsnaps to mesh for a cooler ride in the summer.

Perhaps most importantly, though, this stroller is made to last. (After all, what's the point of solving a mama dilemma if it creates another one a few months down the road?) The MIXX Next pairs perfectly with all Nuna PIPA™ series infant car seats using the included car seat ring adapter, and then adapts to a child seat that can face toward you (for a little face time) or forward for when your little one is ready to take on the world. All in all, this stroller gets you where you need to go with a child up to 50 pounds, meaning it's the only one you'll ever need.

The MIXX Next is available in three colors and retails for $749.95.

This article was sponsored by Nuna. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

14 Toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

Do you need a family emergency kit? (Hint: Yes, you totally do)

It only takes a few minutes to be better prepared for emergencies.

Right now is understandably a time for concern, but the same message applies: Prepare, don't panic. We parents have a responsibility to care and provide for our children, ensuring their well-being before and after any disruptive event, whether it's a natural disaster or an outbreak that forces temporary shutdowns and closures in our community. When it comes to emergency preparation, I always tell parents one thing: You want to have a plan just in case the worst really does happen.

As a mom of three young kids with a firefighter husband, I'm constantly anticipating potential problems—and thinking ahead about how to cope. Thinking ahead and planning has saved me many nights of pacing the floor, and has made me feel more confident as a parent.

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play