Contrary to popular opinion, there is now a large body of evidence to suggest that women’s intellect does not suffer in any way after having a baby.
An article in New Scientist magazine, published today, reveals that maternity can, in fact, boost cognitive function in women’s brains, resulting in increased emotional resilience and a better ability to manage stress and strategic thinking – all attributes that are invaluable in the modern workplace.
After having a baby, women’s brains become more emotionally resilient and responsive to people and situations around them
Like many mothers, New Scientist features editor, Sally Adee, felt nervous about how pregnancy and children would affect her employability. She says: ‘Starting in early pregnancy, I became increasingly nervous about what would happen to my brain after having kids. Would my priorities shift? Would I stop caring about my job – or worse, keep caring but no longer be capable of doing it?’
According to the research, a mother’s brain does go through incredible physical changes during pregnancy and early motherhood, but the perception of these changes as negative does women no favours when it comes to going back to work – especially when their brains have actually improved.
Says Sally: ‘After returning from maternity leave, I began to notice unexpected changes: where I used to be a fairly anxious person, after having my twins, it was much harder to rattle me. My to-do list also seemed to evaporate more readily. That didn’t fit with the popular wisdom. When I started looking into the science behind all this, I found researchers had uncovered some really surprising changes maternity causes in the brain”.
In the first four months after childbirth, for example, the areas in a mother’s brain that play a role in reasoning and judgment, empathy and regulating emotions actually expand, suggesting that women’s brains become more emotionally resilient and responsive to people and situations around them.
Motherhood demands better strategic planning and multi-tasking
Meanwhile, starting in the third trimester and beyond pregnancy there is a reduction in activity in the area of the brain that is responsible for the ‘flight or fight’ response, meaning that mothers tend to become much less stressed. A blunted stress response also makes them more resilient and able to cope with the demands of a new baby – a trait that is invaluable in a demanding career.
New mothers must also learn to cope with regular life as efficiently as they did before having a baby, while also meeting the new, increased demands of their offspring. This indicates motherhood demands better strategic planning and multi-tasking. While research on humans is in its early stages, these traits have been found in primates and future studies expect to see that the effects are seen in humans too.
Research scientist Kelly Lambert, whose findings contributed to the article, also commented, “Being able to be more efficient in your decision-making, being emotionally resilient, maybe being able to engage in different strategies to solve a problem… that sounds like a wonderful executive or manager to me.”
How about that for ‘baby brain’?