Living Between the Lines

Mummy-brain is a long term condition DJ!

I was listening to ‘Pop Masters’ on BBC Radio 2 this morning. This is not a competition I am ever likely to enter. Musical facts and dates are just not things I can reliably recall to order. My prowess at musical quizzes stops short of being able to name much more than the winner of ‘Eurovision’ in 1967 (Sandy Shaw) I was ten, I liked ‘Puppet on a String”.

The DJ introduced the first contestant.

“If I do badly, I think I can claim to have ‘Mummy-Brain’ even though my daughter is seven months old,” declared the latter. The DJ was sceptical,

“Can one have ‘mummy-brain’ after the event? Isn’t it something that just happens during pregnancy?” he asked.

What? Where have you been Mr DJ?

‘Mummy-brain’ is something that is with you from the moment nature decides a new life is being created. From that moment on it is a downward slope to La-La land in my opinion.

I read an article about it years ago, when my own five children were still small enough to demand mother’s full attention (so, nothing changes). I think the article appeared in a daily newspaper and was reiterated on TV. The article claimed that a woman’s brain shrinks a little each time she is pregnant. I looked at my children a little differently after that.

There are, of course, many women holding down competent full-time jobs despite their brains having been apparently shrunk during pregnancy. I was one of these women and apart from a decidedly dubious meeting or two in which I totally forgot what I was talking about, I mean, literally fell silent and gaped at my client in confusion, I think I did reasonably well. The client was understanding, though had never suffered from mummy-brain herself and could only offer to make me a coffee to help me regain my train of thought. It didn’t work but I managed to bluff my way through the rest of the meeting. However, the ‘mummy-brain’ syndrome remains to this day never mind when the youngest was seven months old!

There is more to ‘mummy-brain’ than a few lost brain cells though. I believe it is more due to the over-use of the brain cells that remain. The positive side of ‘mummy-brain’ has to be the amount of time and care we are able to lavish upon our children despite holding down jobs and running homes. Our brains seem to cope with this pretty well, give or take the odd disaster. In fact, mummy-brain can be a positive advantage to us, stretching us to our limits as it does.

We wont dwell on the time that I left my baby son strapped into his car seat in the living room and backed the car out of the drive, with all four older children yelling,

“Where’s Steven?” at me in unison.

Nor will we tarry on the time I went to pick up my son and his friend from infant school but forgot the friend and arrived all the way home with my son, thinking all the while,

“Have I forgotten something?”

Of course, I raced back to school and the little friend was sitting with his teacher, waiting patiently in the classroom. Teacher, knowing me well, smiled brightly,

“I knew you’d be back, don’t worry!” (I am sure Miss Newell had seen umpteen mothers with mummy-brain over the years)

On a positive note, I can multi-task unbelievably. I can drink in information and disseminate it in a nano-second to give the right reply to the right ‘child’. Equally positive, is the ability to ‘turn off’ and concentrate despite an inordinate amount of noise coming from play room or bedroom. I am not so sure I believe our brains actually shrink to any great degree, they just seem to hold more and more.

However, even now, with children grown and the youngest at University, I know that mummy-brain still lurks, ready to strike at any moment. I hide it a little better these days but it is there.

So, to the contestant on Pop Masters this morning, I say ’good on you’ for getting 21 points out of a possible 39 and be assured that with a seven-month-old baby, you are fully entitled to claim ‘mummy-brain’ when you wish.

On a brighter note, there is new research around nowadays that claims to show that during pregnancy, a woman’s brain shows a tremendous blossoming of what are called dendritic spines–the parts of the neurons that reach out and form synapses, necessary for new learning. Dr. Kinsley, a Virginia neuroscientist, compares it to a computer acquiring extra bandwidth to help it run more than one program at a time.

Now that metaphor appeals to me. I can relate to the usefulness of an increase in bandwidth these days. It makes perfect sense.

So, let’s be clear, mummy-brain is now officially a good thing in my book (La-La land is a good place to be) and it hasn’t held me back at all!

Read the article here

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • hilarymb

    Ooh ooh!! Deborah .. I no longer have Mummy brain – and I have no children!! I got your name right?! Actually I think you catch it later in life .. though I am incredibly lucky with my brain … the oldies suffer in the same way – except my mother!

    I quite understand .. and those children stories .. ‘such fun’ to read – though perhaps not to do too often!!

    Cheers Hilary

  • patricia60

    I am working on a book review right now for April 4th that is about this very thing – neuroplastisity of the brain….they are even finding that eating more veggies keeps the brain from aging…and still growing new….

    I also believe I have had mummy brain several times in my life and when you add in stress – well I have no doubt
    Fun piece thank you

  • Andrea

    Interesting stuff they’re learning about the brain these days. I hope it doesn’t lead to a lot of meddling. I notice they mention nothing about how mothers grow a new pair of eyes in the backs of their heads the moment they give birth. That remains inexplicable.

  • Teresa

    I agree absolutely – La La Land, lovely place as is Away With The Fairies which is where I also spend a great deal of time 🙂 x

  • John Cowton

    I’m a bit worried about this extra bandwidth Deborah. Should I panic and pull the plug on the wi-fi in my house in case a mummy brain hacks into my Daddy brain?

    Anyway, I’ll confess something to you that I wouldn’t tell a soul on my own blog. I actually bought the single ‘Puppet on a String’ on the day that Sandie Shaw won the Eurovision Song Contest.

  • Deborah Barker

    I enjoyed reading all your replies to this post. My mummy brain decrees that I answer one by one…
    Hilary: Yes, the name is correct 🙂 You are officially declared free from mummy-brain.
    Patricia: I am stocking up on veggies then!
    Andrea: This made me laugh – yes, that is something that is totally inexplicable – eyes in the back of the head – but we mums grow them.
    Teresa: Will see you in Lala land then when you get back from being “away with the fairies” 🙂
    John: You bought the record? I was too young for such things but I knew all the words 🙂 Don’t worry I think Daddy brains are immune to mummy-brain in my experience!

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