Have you heard of mommy brain? If you are pregnant or have recently had your child, chances are you have heard of it. A whopping 80% of pregnant women and about 80% of postpartum women report having mommy brain.1 While this subject has been hotly debated, mommy brain is no joke, with many women attesting to the fact that it is very real.
What’s Going On in the Brain?
Pregnancy is an extremely active hormonal time for the mother. There are radical hormone surges that can produce substantial changes in brain structure that can actually reduce gray matter volume, which is the outermost layer of the brain responsible for processing information, releasing new information, and memory.2
How to Support Brain Function
Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to support healthy brain function, starting with exercise and being physically active. Many studies have shown that exercise not only enhances brain function, including memory and learning, it also helps protect the brain.4
A healthy, Mediterranean-style diet that contains lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, herbs, spices, and olive oil has also been shown to not only enhance brain function but protect brain health.5
Getting enough sleep is important to brain function as well. As it turns out, the brain is very active during sleep. That’s when the glymphatic system kicks in to help replenish and cleanse the brain.6 The pulsing motion of the glymphatic system gathers up debris that has accumulated in the brain throughout the day so that debris can be cleared away, which also helps rejuvenate brain tissue. If we don’t get enough sleep, the glymphatic system can’t do its job.
There are also specific herbs and nutrients that can help support brain function such as ginkgo biloba, lecithin, and vitamin B12 to name a few. Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that is important to the function of the entire central nervous system including the brain.7 Natural lecithin is a mixture of fats known as lipids and phospholipids that also provide critical support to brain function.8 Ginkgo biloba is the oldest living tree species in the world and is also one of the most studied herbs for supporting brain function.9
Got Mommy Brain? Make a Plan
If you or someone you know is experiencing mommy brain, the first step is learning what it is. Next, make a plan to support your body and mind to help your mind work optimally and help you feel your best.
Nutrients and herbs can help support a healthy diet and lifestyle and, in the process, also help support brain function. Nourishing your body and getting enough sleep are just some ways to practice self-care that will support your health overall. Moms may want to consider this strategy before, during, and after pregnancy.
1 McCormack C, Callaghan BL, Pawluski JL. It’s time to rebrand “mommy brain.” JAMA Neurol. 2023;80(4):335-336. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/article-abstract/2801288
2 Hoekzema E, Barba-Muller E, Pozzobon C, et al. Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure. Nature Neuroscience. 2017;20:2870296. https://www.nature.com/articles/nn.4458
3 Barda G, Mizrachi Y, Borokchovich I, et al. The effect of pregnancy on maternal cognition. Sci Rep. 2021;11:12187. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8190150/
4 Mandolesi L, Polverino A, Montuori S, et al. Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits. Front Psychol. 2018;9:509. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5934999/?report=reader
5 Klimova B, Novotny M, Schlegel P, Valis M. The Effect of Mediterranean Diet on Cognitive Functions in the Elderly Population. Nutrients. 2021;13(6):2067. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8235742/?report=reader
6 Reddy OC, van der Werf YD. The Sleeping Brain: Harnessing the Power of the Glymphatic System through Lifestyle Choices. Brain Sci. 2020;10(11):868. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7698404/?report=reader
7 NIH. Vitamin B12: fact sheet for health professionals. 2022;Dec 22. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/
8 Latifi S, Tamayol A, Habibey R, et al. Natural lecithin promotes neural network complexity and activity. Scientific Reports. 2016;6. https://www.nature.com/articles/srep25777
9 Singh S, Srivastav S, Castellani RJ, et al. Neuroprotective and antioxidant effect of Ginkgo biloba extract against AD and other neurological disorders. Neurotherapeutics. 2019;16:666-674. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13311-019-00767-8