The Playful Den


Please can we stop labelling our magical mother minds as ‘baby brain’?

After having a baby some pretty wild things happen inside a woman’s brain box. After my third birth I felt like I was confusing the names of the kids all the time, like some kind of stereotypical grandma in a cartoon.

I even caught myself calling Scout, Storm and Scamp, yes, these are previous pets. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve forgotten the basics like when school starts and finishes and if we’ve had lunch or not. This is of course understandable with the lack of sleep, which alone is enough to frazzle anyone’s mind, but on top of that the massive hormonal changes, big life disruption and of course that good old mega massive mental load. Despite that, I’m still not sure this expression is doing much good to help our recovery from the newborn and early years of raising kids. I vote that we need an updated one. 

Words are important. How we talk to ourselves matters. If you are pregnant or in the early stages of newborn delirium I feel compelled to reach out and tell you that, no, actually, you don’t have ‘baby brain’. Adding a new child to the family prompts a major mental filing process. It changes EVERYTHING. There’s endless things to process and adjust to so inevitably, during this process, some files get misplaced. Don’t sweat it. Your brain has not turned to mush, your mind is not weakened or not working, you probably have too many files to shuffle and likely haven’t done a full shut down for a while. My husband loves to tell me the importance of turning my computer off properly – it saves electricity and it keeps the system running properly, apparently. And with a new addition to the family we so often are just slamming the lid when we get a chance and never quite doing a full reset. 

I have observed  women, myself included, use this expression a lot when they return to work after having a baby, usually when they make a mistake. We use it to laugh at ourselves or offer a soft apology. I note in my observations, that the ‘baby brain’ offering can be delivered with a small side serving – a light sigh, a short sharp tut, a tightening of fists, a gritting of the teeth, maybe even a push back of tears. Perhaps small and unnoticeable at the time, these frustrations inflicted on oneself, can lead to uglier thoughts which run the narrative of: I can’t do this. I am less than I was before. I am a failure. And that is why I’m not a fan of this expression, because one moment, we’re flippantly joking about our unreliable ‘baby brain’ and before we realise it we’ve lowered our self-worth. I was still using this expression way beyond when I had an actual baby and in the process of subconsciously attributing simple everyday human mistakes that everyone makes directly back to my status as being a mother. And that people, is fake self-news. 

So by all means find humour in sharing your ‘baby brain’ moments, but beware of slipping into a pattern where you bring your status as a parent as an explanation for dropping a ball, because what we forget is that people are dropping balls everywhere with kids or without. Your mind is marvellously magical, take the chance for a full unplug. Pause and play. Just do something just for fun, toss the files up in the air and indulge your inner kid, whatever they feel like doing, because after a while all those files will float back down to where they’re meant to be. And if you’re looking for an alternative to saying ‘oops baby brain’ how about simply, ‘I’ve made a mistake, let’s try that again’.