Ever walk into a room and forget what you went in there for? Ever go to the supermarket for nappies and come back with chocolate but no nappies? Ever attempt to get out a very basic sentence but struggle to get past the word “what”?
You’ve got mumnesia, or baby brain!
It could be caused by sleep deprivation, hormones or just overwhelm at all the stuff we have to think about every day, but baby brain is a real thing.
It’s even been studied by scientists over the years. In 2018 a bunch of Aussie scientists found that during the third trimester of pregnancy: “General cognitive functioning, memory, and executive functioning were significantly reduced.”
Executive function covers attention to detail, planning and problem solving.
In other words, as the countdown to your baby’s arrival reaches the final weeks, you will feel like you’ve had a partial lobotomy.
It’s like our brain is trapped in the 1950s and so totally gives up as we near the baby’s arrival – reasoning that “she won’t need to actually think about hard stuff anymore, it’s not like she’ll be doing anything other than child rearing now anyway”.
The fog remains cast over our brain even after the baby is born. It’s likely that sleep deprivation takes over as the main culprit from here.
But we have got a lot on our mind during this phase. There’s our own needs, plus a demanding little human’s, to see to, and our life feels like a snow globe that just had a very violent shake.
What does it all result in? We end up behaving as if we require 24/7 care for ourselves.
We forget to get the washing on, then don’t hang it up to dry. We misplace absolutely everything, including stuff that’s actually in our hand right now. Seriously, I once spent a good five minutes hunting for a pen then looked down to see one was in my hand.
As if that wasn’t enough, mumnesia also has a huge impact on our inability to recall events of the day.
Apparently the average new parent loses between 450 to 700 hours of sleep during the first year – which actually doesn’t sound anywhere near as much as I reckon I lost last year with my second child. How many hours are there in a whole year? It would probably be easier to calculate how many hours I actually slept.
We don’t just use sleep to recharge and get our energy levels back, it’s also a chance for more brains to process the events of the day.
John Gabrieli, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: “When people don’t sleep, or if their sleep is fragmented, events of the day may not be consolidated into long-term memories.”
That means not only are you forgetting little short-term things, like what you had planned for dinner that night, but you’re also failing to compute long-term memories.
For me one of the worst things about baby brain has been how bloody embarrassing it can be when you’re forgetting everything.
Forgetting people’s names? Awkward.
Leaving the changing bag at home? Stupid, and potentially very messy.
Turning up at a wedding empty handed because you didn’t even remember to buy a card, let alone write it? Just rude.
So how long does mumnesia last? How long do our loved ones have to put up with asked us to pass the salt 10 times, and still just ending up with the ketchup?
I hate to break it to you fellow mama, but apparently mumnesia can last for years! I went back to work after a year’s maternity leave and found that I had to write every little thing down, including check email, lest I forget to do it.
“The bulk of forgetfulness diminishes with better sleep cycles and easier feeding,” explains Dr Gabrieli. But now you’re a parent, the chances are you’re never going to be totally rid of it, he continues: “The addition of a family member who needs lots of care and attention probably adds quite a bit of fatigue for many years compared to when you have no children.”
So what can you do to beat mumnesia?
Have a small notebook on you at all times and make copious lists in it. If you want to be really organised, you could put them into sections for work, housework, meal planning, kids and errands.
Have a diary
Keeping a good diary will save you the embarrassment of forgetting birthdays. Keep it updated with events at all times.
Having an organised home that doesn’t have you rushing round clearing up constantly can be a great help.
If you’re not having to clean and tidy away all of the time, your brain power is freed up for other things. It also helps with your stress levels.
Take up a hobby
Whether it’s running, swimming, painting or music, find something you love and that takes your mind completely off of all the other stuff you have going on.
Taking a real break every now and then leaves your brain refreshed and ready to take on the next challenge parenthood throws at you.
Do you have baby brain? What kind of things have you forgotten? I would love to hear from you.