When we become moms, our physiology dramatically changes. And as a mom, I don’t know about you — but with each birth, my brain got foggier and more challenging to maneuver afterward. 

One study points to a decrease in gray matter in the area of moms’ brains that is responsible for social cognition. This brain area is “important for healthy cognition across people’s lifespan and is “centrally involved in many functions including spatial navigation, episodic memory, and stress regulation.” Effects of this depletion are cited among other studies to be prevalent in those first two years after birth, and little research has been done on those long-term effects.

But when I became a mom three times over, I didn’t realize remembering things, name recall, managing anxiety, and even being able to pack a car well might be impacted. But here we are, and then add a tripledemic to a mom’s brain, and you can have some real fun. 

Here’s what you need to know about getting through a foggy mom’s brain and how you can more easily balance work and family afterward.

Take the Time You Need to Be With Your Little One

Abigail Tucker, mom of 4 and author of Mom Genes: Inside the New Science of Our Ancient Maternal Instinct, has extensively researched this topic. “The hormones of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding prompt a host of genetic changes that ultimately shift our brain architecture,” writes Tucker. Though many women are motivated to return to themselves after birth, it’s impossible to return to our pre-pregnancy brains, two other scientists from the University of British Columbia confirm.

A recent 2021 study measured the cognitive function of pregnant women in their second and third trimesters. The study found “an impairment in memory among pregnant women” and noted that language skills, particularly naming, were also diminished. On the flip side, the brain acquires a new skill set, some of which aids in the protective skills needed to care for our infants. Tucker cites a 2016 study showing that the most significant drops in gray matter lead to women’s warmest relationships with their babies. 

The takeaway?

Take the time you need to be patient with yourself and bond with your little one as much as possible. The work and the names of things you need to get to when you return will be there. Find ways to carve out time for the things that matter to you so you can adjust and be patient as your brain adapts and molds to the new needs in your life. 

Focus on Longer Term Efficiency, Not Immediate

As a manager of many years, I’ve realized that a working mom will not waste a single minute of the day. The brain restructures to prepare you for all the juggling that motherhood will throw your way. Dr. Louann Brizendine, the author of The Female Brain, states that brain shrinkage (about 4% diminished brain volume during pregnancy) is a sign of brain circuits that are being restructured in preparation for their being changed from “one-lane highways” into “superhighways.” She says to think of it as restructuring for greater efficiency.

When studied in animals, research shows that those mothers were more stress-resistant and had enhanced memory and cognition in the long run. Although the brain might be disorganized initially, it leads to a more efficient and focused brain. 

The takeaway? 

Focus on a few things daily to get through, knowing that the brain is restructuring. Set realistic goals and targets at home and work to ramp up as you adjust to being a new mom.

Restructure Your Career to Work for You

A study published by the American Psychology Association (APA) found through interviewing 1,364 moms that moms with part-time jobs tend to be happier during their children’s infancy than moms who stay at home. And yet, more millennials than ever are opting to be stay-at-home, citing a lack of work-life balance as a critical reason.

After having three kids, I also had to go part-time and create a new career pathway to maneuver my priorities. My son couldn’t do daycare due to his asthma, and when we kept landing in the ER, we knew something had to change. Luckily, my husband’s career had picked up, and I was able to take on some freelance clients for a bit after my second company was acquired. But here is how I stayed balanced when my priorities began shifting.

3 Tips to Strike the Balance Between Work and Family

1. Keep your personal objectives front and center.

Ensure that you are never sacrificing your personal goals for your career. This can lead to resentment and other long-term adverse effects if you do. Always keep your personal objectives front and center, and find companies that will align with them. “I think what has helped me the most in finding success and fulfillment is having a clear head, defined set of values and goals, and paying attention to my family and business,” says Abby Ha, Head of Marketing at WellPCB.

2. Fold your kids into your work life.

Wolfe Herd, 31 and the youngest CEO to take a company (Bumble) public brought her son to the occasion and had him help while ringing the virtual NASDAQ bell. When interviewed about it, she said being a mom is “harder than an IPO.” I think it’s crucial to show companies that we have many facets of our lives that we can weave into work instead of keeping them separate. Growing up with a dentist and teacher, I can affirm that seeing them work and be happy doing what they loved inspired me to always follow in those footsteps. I try as much as possible to bring my kids into my writing world or them to the podcast recording studio where they can also learn and be a part of it.

3. Ask kids which activities matter and let go of the rest.

Getting caught up, overdelivering, and over-committing on kids’ activities is easy. After all, there are so many great things to pick from. But remember that of the nearly 8 million U.S. students participating in high school athletics, only 6 percent eventually compete as National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes. Instead of over-indexing on sports for them, concentrate on quality over quantity. Show up when it matters to your kid and let go of the rest. 

Other advice, which may feel obvious, is to spend one-on-one time with your kid each day and make sure that comes first. It could be as simple as 15 minutes where your partner takes one, you take the other, and you switch kids the next day. Or ensure that workouts are scheduled for self-care at the start of the week. 

Ann Wojcicki, CEO of 23andMe and the sister of YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki swears about keeping fit and doing one thing for yourself daily. It could be biking to and from work or scheduling walks. Lastly, get your kids involved at home, whether in pet care, helping with the dishes, or doing their part to pick up after themselves. 

These healthy habits will help your brain, ensuring your head is clear, and you can juggle the best of both worlds through the cloudiest moments. If you want more advice on selecting suitable activities for your kid, check out our other post on time management for kids’ activities for some guidance!