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:

Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shop

This oil completely changed my skin this summer

And I'm never going back to lotion.

For all the sweating and swimming I do in the summer, it seems illogical for my skin to be as parched as ever. But your mid-thirties (and 2020 in general) don't really seem to follow any rule book, so here we are.

A couple of months ago, I was on the lookout for a moisturizer that would not only keep my legs from looking like an ashy mess, but also truly nourish and benefit my skin. I've developed a deep interest in skin care for my face over the past few years and decided it's high time to extend that degree of consideration to the rest of my body. (After all, there's more of it, right?)

It's not that I'm too concerned with aging, but let's be real. If there's something that can be done to slow the Wrinkle Express, I'm going to give it a go. I also wanted to find something natural that wouldn't turn into a goopy mess the second I started sweating.

Enter: Esker's Firming Body Oil.

Keep reading Show less
popular

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have kids—so here’s what I did

We asked our three most pessimistic friends who have kids whether it's worth it or not

As told to Liz Tenety.

Around the time my husband and I were turning 30, we had a genuine conversation about whether or not we wanted kids. I was the hesitant one because I was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's just hold on. Okay, let's talk about this. Because we love our life. We like traveling. Is this what we want?"

My husband said, "Let's ask our three most pessimistic, crabby friends who have kids whether or not it's worth it."

And every single one of them was like, "Oh, it's unmissable on planet earth."

So when I got pregnant, I was—and I'm not ashamed to say this and I don't think you should be—I was as connected with the baby in my belly as if it were a water bottle. I was like, I don't know you. I don't know what you are, but you can be some gas pain sometimes, but other than that, we're going to have to meet each other and suss this relationship out.

But all the cliches are true that you just know what to do when the baby comes out. Some of the times are hard, some of them are easier, but you just gotta use your gut.

Keep reading Show less
Life