PARENTS’ BRAINS – PERFECTLY NORMAL, JUST DIFFERENT

 20275871_ml Isn’t nature amazing. One minute you’re a young professional, armed with smart phone, briefcase and makeup, a multi-tasking warrior, juggling your bosses’ whims, healthy grocery list, yoga schedule and weekend social plans with your significant other.

And then. Along comes your baby.

What the heck happened to your brain

New moms are often shocked by the seeming metamorphosis that occurs when a baby is born. Your memory and your entire ability to keep pace with the outside world is erased. In it’s place is a weary albeit happy parent whose entire focus is when did baby last eat or needs a nap.
IS IT NATURE? 

Is it nature? Absolutely. From the moment of conception or even before, young couples start hormonal and brain changes (yes, fathers too) that will see them through pregnancy, infancy and early childhood. Leave it to nature. The survival of the species, considered the ultimate challenge for each species, ensures that parents’ brains will be super prepared to welcome and nurture baby. That this increases some skills and decreases others is only natural.
Let’s start with women. Even when a woman first begins to dream about having a baby, her chemical nature begins to change, albeit slowly. Lost in pleasant daydreams, she can thank the neurotransmitter oxytocin that is slowly increasing to higher and higher levels. As she dreams, her focus is changing. Cortisol/ adrenaline drops as the soothing chemicals of oxytocin and prolactin increase. So her focus for work and goal oriented behaviors decrease as her internal feel good system ramps up. It’s like being in love. And she is. Albeit with a fictional idealized idealized person, the not yet even conceived baby. In fact, even holding someone else’s baby can create huge surges of oxytocin and longing.

Along with conception and pregnancy, brains begin to change more dramatically. Huge surges in certain neurotransmitters and drops in others prepare both parents chemically for parenthood. As women increase their prolactin, oxytocin- nurturing chemicals, dad’s experience vasopressin increases which make them more protective and vigilant in protection instinct ( think poppa bear).  Dads also increase in their levels of oxytocin, which is made even higher by skin to skin bonding with their newborn. So, for both genders, pregnancy hormones prime the brain to be open to reshaping when a newborn arrives.
Post delivery, moms experience huge surges in energy and positive focus (aside from baby blues, which is another topic), as well as hormonal changes right after birth, including increases in estrogen, oxytocin and prolactin. Anything that is related to the welfare of baby becomes prime focus. In short, priorities have changed. You might forget to change your poop stained shirt before you go out, but guaranteed baby has fresh diaper and is primed and ready to roll!
EMBRACE YOUR NEW BRAIN! 

So, parents’ brains adapt to the demands at hand, with quite a bit of help from their evolutionary nature. While research has shown that new moms have definite short term memory loss, lots of other new skills will grow. Breast feeding, remembering a baby’s schedule, and other myriad of facts about babies and your baby in particular surge to the forefront of your brain. There are also areas of brain growth. Surges of energy in terms of multi-tasking the needs of baby are first and foremost in a mom’s brain. Particularly in the prefrontal cortex, the brain areas that are involved in planning and foresight, increases, which does help mom anticipate her infant’s needs. When it comes to her baby, mothers’ memory is much stronger.

Priorities Shift: Nature at its Finest!

Consider it the ultimate priority shifting. Both your brain and your heart are utterly in sync as you are completely smitten by this new little babe. It’s nature at its best. Let the car keys be found by someone else while you enjoy this most remarkable job of your life.

We will return to the topic of the challenges of parenting atypical kids next week.

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