Why is the common phrase, “mommy brain” a widely used saying amongst our fertile friends? Does this figure of speech suggest any truth to a woman’s state of mind pre-and postnatal? Could it be possible that our brain cells do somewhat deplete? Or is this curse of forgetfulness just out of sheer fatigue one experiences from frequent night wakings to empty our squished bladders? Some prefer to blame pregnancy-induced hormones for their large fluctuations and the affects that this hormonal flood has on our brain. So many lingering questions because we just don’t seem to know enough about the central nervous system development in mothers. We do, however, have a decent understanding of a pregnant mother’s health, behaviour, and moods as well as her baby’s cognitive and psychological development once it is born. But little is known of how pregnancy can change a mother’s brain. So with all the question marks floating around in my head, I decided to do a little bit of digging for some answers of my own. I hope I am able to offer some insight into this ”matter” no pun intended. Let’s get started then, shall we…
Having recently been a member of the incubation club, moments of impaired memory and compromised concentration do seem to ring a bell. I recall one incident, where I found the moulded cheese I had given up looking for, in the dishtowel drawer. I had virtually no idea how it got there! But it was at this pivotal moment early on in my pregnancy that played a significant role in my quest to learn more about brain food, or lack thereof. I knew in my heart and mind, that I had to up the ante of my prenatal supplementation if I wanted to eliminate or at least limit my visits to La La Land.
I set sail on my adventure to uncovering the truth behind “mommy brain” and began my search for some answers. The more I looked, the more I found myself hitting a wall. I was surprised to find that there is little scientific research surrounding pregnancy-induced forgetfulness. So, I decided to turn to the other best primary source of information I could think of, the bold and diverse circle of women in my life. After numerous discussions, I continued to hear confessions of their experience with “momnesia”. Interestingly enough, some of these felines friends of mine solemnly swear they still suffer from this suspected phenomenon of brain-fog as result of motherhood. They were quick to remind that the onset of fuzzy-thinking was just the beginning and I’ll never totally recover many of my faculties. The thought of losing my marbles had me as a scared as a cat stuck in a tree. On the contrary, I found others making excuses for my moments of unclarity by convincing me that this period of forgetfulness brought on by my pregnancy will soon one day pass as did theirs. Good advice, you think? Well, slap me silly and call me crazy, I knew I needed to delve deeper by understanding our inherent instincts.
Now, let’s look at this myth or theory or whatever you want to call it from an evolutionary perspective shall we. Primitively speaking, I can see how poor memory recall serves a greater purpose in terms of reproduction. I can agree that if we did have a perfect recollection of our time served as birthing vessels, then maybe we would be less eager to jump on the bandwagon of procreation. Let me elaborate before you get your knickers in a knot because I know pregnancy is a beautiful thing, yada yada. To clarify, I’m not so sure people would willingly choose to continue to reproduce if they truly remember the aches and pains associated from a growing belly to back labour. Come to think of it, maybe a healthy dose of amnesia does serve a greater purpose with respect to populating mankind. Those crazy Homo sapiens weren’t that “ensino” after all, they just had a lapse in memory. Ok, I know you get the picture so let’s move on.
From a social and psychological viewpoint, I see the added benefit of forgetfulness as a protective mechanism. If we were to remember everything from restless leg syndrome to frequent night feedings and thereafter, then where’s the sense in making these repeat decisions. What would guarantee aiding and abetting more than one offspring with this violation of our state-of-minds? Moreover, have you heard of the term, “unconditional love”? Well, maybe a slightly clouded-memory warrants that even though little Bobby pulled a temper tantrum in the toy isle, you will still be able to forgive and forget and not resent him for this and other less desirable actions he displays down the road. Luckily for Bobby, all that fuzzy-thinking will secure him with the unconditional love that he deserves for life. I like to think of this sort of immunity based on the principle of altruism (practice of concern for others). This in turn ensures our young gets affection without any limitations.
However, it is important for me to reiterate that not all agree that the speculated condition of “pregnancy brain” really does exist, yet the myth still seems to live on. Regardless of the inconsistent findings and limited studies, even at the slightest chance there lies a link between “mommy brain” and nutrition and/or supplementation I knew I had to take all the precautionary measures necessary and not take the backseat on the road to “Forgetfulness”. So from all this mommy-led feedback and some of my own gut-felt theories, I decided to venture on this natural path of discovery a little further. This journey eventually led me to uncovering the secret weapon to improving and maintaining brain function (drum roll…) and that my fellow readers is the brain food, DHA (docosahexanoicacid).
Here is a little overview for you to mull over in your head: DHA is the most important of the Omega-3 and Omega-6 Polyunsaturated fatty acids when it comes to pregnancy. It gets stored in your brain and tissues as well as in your red blood cells. As your pregnancy progresses, the placenta (the nutrient-rich lifeline between you and your babe) increasingly takes what you have and gives it to your baby. In other words, your growing little thief will take what they need from you in order to fulfil their nutritional quota. Meanwhile, leaving you with a little less of the good stuff for you to satisfy your nutrient requirements. Resourceful little buggers aren’t they. This is why DHA deficiency has been linked to postpartum depression and difficulties with memory and concentration in the pre- and postnatal period for moms. It also has been associated with the decreased release of mood-altering hormones, such as, dopamine and serotonin. Consider this interesting fact worth noting; countries with fewer rates of postnatal depression, such as, Japan also have a higher rate of oily fish in their diets. Coincidence, I think not.
Apologies if that was an ear-full, but I just want to explain it in layman’s terms. Nonetheless, I hope you now have a better understanding of “mommy brain” and the importance of integrating the omega fatty acids into your daily supplement intake. You might also want to consider taking a fish oil supplement well before deciding on a planned pregnancy as it may take up to several weeks for DHA to accumulate in your body. Remember, or at least try to (if you are suffering from “baby brain”) that there has to be a sufficient amount of DHA in your blood and tissues in order to be safely shared with our growing baby’s needs. Otherwise, you run the risk of totally being robbed and depleting your levels, which may result in brain shrinkage and/or a case of the “baby blues”.
At this point I would like to quickly list the many benefits of DHA pre-and postnatal:
-aid the development of baby’s brain, nervous system, and visual acuity
-reduces the risk of developmental disorder (i,e., AD/ADHD)
-improves maternal memory, concentration, and alertness
-lowers chances of postpartum depression and helps to elevate mood
Which brings me to this next tidbit of information. At present time, there is no recommended daily intake of DHA. Although, this is currently being researched. According to Lianne Phillipson-Webb, author of Sprout Right, she suggests a daily consumption of 1200 mg of DHA. She recommends a minimum intake of 600 mg if you’re suffering from pregnancy-induced nausea known as morning sickness at the beginning stages of your pregnancy. For those of you who would prefer a vegetarian option or more satiable option while your are combating wooziness, I suggest you turn to good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as, flax seed, chia seed, and hemp seed, just to name a few.
Alright, if being vegan or vegetarian are not the main reasons why you’re still on the fence about whether to take this brain food supplement, then let me guess, it’s because you’re weary of toxins associated with the derivatives of fish oils? It is true, the very same place where omega-3s reside is where environmental contaminants are stored. This fatty tissue of fish; hence the name, omega “fatty acids” is the hot spot for heavy metals and other toxins. I agree, this a real cause for concern, since we try with all our might to steer clear of other things that contain high concentrations of toxins and poisons. So I’ve listed two ways that can help you in finding a cleaner product:
1. Buy products that are 3rd-Party Tested (i.e., IFOS)
2. Buy Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil
Other factors to keep in mind when choosing a fish oil are: purity, freshness, potency, nutrients bioavailability, sustainability, and cost. There’s also a website, IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) program offered for third party testing. This organization tests many, but not all, fish oil supplements and publishes detailed analyses of the results for consumers to know. The good news is that most fish oils are purified by molecular distillation. Say what? This is a process that removes much, but again not all, of the toxins. For this reason, it is safer to take a supplement than it is to eat large amounts of oily fish. Unless of course it’s wild. Personally, I trust reputable companies, such as, Metagenics’ high concentrate EPA-DHA capsules and Genestra’s Super DHA liquid. These companies produce pharmaceutical grade fish oils and are independently tested for purity. The fish oils are manufactured through a propriety system that removes contaminants and impurities resulting in a safer product. However, don’t start taking things without consulting your primary health professional. As always, women should speak to their trusted practitioner prior to initiating any supplement.
This brings me to my conclusion, regardless of whether you believe “mommy brain” is fact or fiction, I think you can agree that the importance of taking essential fatty acids during pregnancy and while breastfeeding have far-reaching benefits for both mom and babe. Some of which could later be attributed to you child’s high IQ level. Hey, now there’s an idea, any takers for conducting a longitudinal study on measuring the correlation of IQ levels and EFAs in let’s say, twenty years? Anyone, anyone…, Bueller? Recently, there’s been an increasing awareness of the benefits of fish oils on the developing baby and mom. As such, hopefully we will soon see emerging studies highlighting this critical period during a woman’s life. I am optimistic that more extensive research into this area will help many of us understand how pregnancy alters our cognitive capacity to adjust to motherhood and thus enable us to access early interventions to ensure healthier and happier moms and tots.
Moral of this story or headline reading, “combat brain shrinkage with omega fatty acids and SLEEP, sleep is good for everything”.
The information shared in this post is based on my personal opinion and in consultation with the following network of people: Naturopathic Doctors, Nutritionist, Personal Trainers, Herbalists, Scientific Researchers, Educators, and of course newbie and seasoned Parents.
I’d love to hear what you think. Does “momnesia” really exist? Please be kind when posting.
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Photo Credit: Fornal