The weird thing that happens to your brain when you become a mother.

 

I was a risk-taker before becoming a mother. I was also pretty relaxed about life and it took a lot to make me cry because friends told me so. I didn’t plan too far ahead. I didn’t really look back either. If a person can ever be described in three words I was fearless, careless and light.

Then I had a baby.

And I changed. Well, at least I thought I changed because my world had changed, but now science is telling me something different. When women become mothers their brains change and these changes in the brain — from increases in biochemical reactions to increased grey matter and increases in activity in regions that control empathy, anxiety, and social interaction — make a pre-baby brain different to a post-baby one.

Jackie Lunn feat
Author, Jackie. Image supplied.

This is hugely comforting to me because I went AWOL when I had my first baby and while I’ve somewhat returned, I know I will never totally rid myself of my more anxious, vigilant, emotional side. It’s been 15 years since I became a mum and many scientists also say that they’re not sure whether the brain ever goes back to what it was like before.

That’s good news, or at least decent ammunition in an argument. It’s not me obsessively worrying about an unreturned text message, crying in Korean telecommunications ads and forecasting worse case scenarios when it comes to simple, glorious days at the beach with the kids. My brain did it. It physically changed on me.

There was no soft entry into this brain change for me. It was like a switch was flicked. My first words to my husband after a long labour, as he cradled our new baby in his arms, were:

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“I have to close my eyes for a second. You need to look after her. Promise me, you’ll look after her. I just need two minutes.”

He was already kissing her on her head and cradling her in his arms.

Watch our Editor-at-large Jamila Rizvi below, discuss the things NO ONE told her about pregnancy. Post continues after video.

My vigilance was extreme. I was anxious, I was scared of something, anything, going wrong, and I was in love — the obsessive kind. The type where if it was a man I would do drive-bys and cyber-stalk. It was me and my baby. It took me three months before I could leave my daughter and I only went out for two hours with a friend at my husband’s insistence. Hurrying home. Running in the door. Checking.

When my husband went back to work and my mum went back to work, I had company. My internal monologue. It went something like this:

When did she last feed?

Is she ok?

What does that noise mean?

Did she have enough milk?

Is that a normal breath?

Why won’t these boobs work properly?

I think I’m doing this all wrong.

Why is she looking at me like that?

Is she ok?

Am I loving her right?

I didn’t realise it would be this hard.

Did she have enough milk?

I think I’m doing this all wrong.

Is that a normal breath?

Is she ok?

I think I’m doing this all wrong.

Is she ok?

People visited me to congratulate me and they would talk to me and I would smile and nod and I wouldn’t hear a word they said because I was answering my internal monologue.

Gradually my obsession eased, my love became lighter and more joyful and I added two more children to my family (where the transition was not nearly as severe).

Those early days were an emotional blur but science now understands a bit better what happens to women after they give birth.

This is how a new mother’s brain changes according to theatlantic.

A rush of hormones during pregnancy and after childbirth, help attract a new mother to her baby. These hormones can cause feelings of love, protectiveness and worry.

An estimated one in six women develop post-partum depression.

More than one in six new mothers develop obsessive compulsive behaviours such as checking constantly a baby is breathing.

“This is what we call an aspect of almost the obsessive compulsive behaviors during the very first few months after the baby’s arrival,” maternal brain researcher Pilyoung Kim told The Atlantic. “Mothers actually report very high levels of patterns of thinking about things that they cannot control. They’re constantly thinking about baby. Is baby healthy? Sick? Full?”

The amygdala, which drives emotions, memory and survival instincts, grows in the weeks and months after giving birth. 

Oxytocin (responsible for maternal/child bonding in all mammals) dramatically increases.

New parents have very similar brain activity to a person falling in romantic love.

Men show similar changes in the brain to post-partum mothers when they are deeply involved in the caregiving. It seems women have everything ready to go, but men create those changes in the brain if they are hands-on parents.

I always look back on those first six months with my new baby and think what happened to me? Who did I become? Why have I never fully returned?

I do miss my fearlessness and that feeling of lightness I sometimes get if I’m at a live concert or I’m driving the car by myself and an old song comes on, or I stay up really late and pretend I don’t need my sleep.

But now I feel a bit better about it. It’s science. My body and my brain is doing what it is meant to do. Maternal brains go through change because that’s what happens when you want your offspring to survive and thrive. That change makes me (sort of) normal.

And it makes me not worry so much about that internal monologue I know I will never shake.

Is that a normal breath?

I think I’m doing this all wrong.

Am I loving her right?

Why is she looking at me like that?

I didn’t realise it would be this hard.

Is she ok?

Funnily enough science soothes me and makes me add:

How lucky am I?

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