Have you ever wondered ‘what is Baby Brain?’ – I’d never heard of it until of course, I was embarking on becoming a mum. Today we have Cheryl Fingleson of Cheryl The Sleep Coach chatting with us about what it all means.
What is Baby Brain?
“Baby brain”, the mental fog many women say they experience during pregnancy and shortly after childbirth, is a genuine, measurable phenomenon, according to a recent Australian study by Deakin University. This found overall cognitive functioning was poorer in pregnant women than in non-pregnant women.
How long does it last for?
A similar study conducted by Leiden University in the Netherlands focused on the post-birth phase, and found that the volume of grey matter decreases in certain areas of a women’s brain after she’s been pregnant, and those changes last for around two years after she has given birth.
What usually happens?
Many pregnant women and new mothers are familiar with the symptoms of baby brain, like forgetting appointments or constantly losing small items, struggling with memory tasks and zoning out of conversations.
Medical experts attribute ‘baby brain’ to the chemical changes in the body during pregnancy and childbirth, but Cheryl Fingleson of Cheryl The Sleep Coach believes that sleep, or lack thereof, is a significant contributor too.
Lack of sleep
“Doctors will say that pregnant women have grey matter reduction because they’re recruiting those areas to the critical tasks of child rearing, bonding, and social cognition.” she said. “But expanding bellies, hormonal changes and the arrival of an infant also play a critical role in a woman’s sleep, and changes in sleep patterns are known to impact memory, motor skills, cognition and wellness,” she said.
Round the clock demands
After birth, responding to the round-the-clock demands of an infant naturally causes mayhem to the adult sleep cycle. The effect of this fragmented sleep experience goes beyond a tired body, but also impacts how you think and cope. “With this kind of sleep deprivation, you’re not just shortchanged on deep sleep; you’re also getting less dream sleep, explains Cheryl Fingleson, “which affects new parents more than they might realize”.
“Dreams play a surprisingly important role in our ability to think clearly. During Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the brain sorts memories and processes the day’s events. Lack of REM sleep almost certainly causes memory lapses and makes the day’s tasks more difficult, leaving you feeling scattered, forgetful and foggy.” For new mums, this makes a range of daily activities problematic – from staying on top of the household bills to summoning the patience to deal with a cranky toddler.
Tips to reclaim some of your pre-baby clarity
For many women the ‘baby fog’ is just something else to adjust to during the maelstrom of new parenting, but there are a few valuable tips that might help reclaim at least some of your pre-baby clarity:
• Sleep when you can.
Over a short period of sleep deprivation, it’s possible to compensate for some of what you’ve missed. When you nap, your brain will make up bot h deep and REM sleep, says Fingleson. Sleeping a bit more on the weekends — say, two or three hours — can be beneficial. But don’t let a little extra dozing turn into a sleep binge. Overdosing on sleep can start a whole new cycle of deprivation, because then you won’t be tired at bedtime.
• Trade the middle-of-the-night feedings.
If its practical, rotate feeds or nights with your partner. Breastfeeding mothers might consider pumping milk so Dad can take care of at least one night time feeding.
• Turn down the monitor.
Newborns are active sleepers. You don’t need to respond to every restless or noisy whimper from the nursery, and its best not to create any expectation that you always will. Put your baby to bed while he or she is still awake, try not to use nursing or rocking strategies to settle them every time they wake. It may take a few nights to implement these changes, but your sleep and your brain will thank you for it in the long run.
“It is imperative that pregnant women, new mothers and everyone around them get the right amount of sleep,” Fingleson concluded.
“Sleep is vital for overall function, development, health and happiness.”
“I always advise my clients’ to take control of their sleep routine regardless of their circumstances. It’s not worth deferring, as sleep loss and poor routine has been proven to have a significant impact on all of our wellbeing. There are plenty of tools available to improve sleep and settling. And if parents can’t do it alone, there is professional help on hand too. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!”
Cheryl Fingleson of Cheryl The Sleep Coach is available for comment and expert opinion.
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