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Believe It or Not, Motherhood Makes You Smarter

When I say the words "mommy brain," you know exactly what I'm talking about. Pregnancy creates all sorts of changes in a woman's body, spirit and mind. I couldn't believe how absentminded I became during both of my pregnancies. I was constantly stubbing my toes and dropping things. My sharp memory flew out the window as I could no longer keep track of dates without writing them down, or even remember why I walked into the room. I thought for sure my wits would return to me after pregnancy.

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But then, after the babies came, my mind was so overwhelmed with the pressures of caring for the little lives unfolding before me, that I didn't have much mental space left for anything that wasn't child-related. And then there was the researching. The incessant, nonstop researching of all things having to do with my children's development and my own parenting style. It's almost a burden today, having access to all this knowledge. If I don't know the answer to a question, I feel like it's my own fault for not reading enough or asking the right people.

Mommy brain: It kinda sucks, right?

It turns out all the stumbling and fumbling and forgetting of pregnancy is just the brain making new connections, and essentially "rewiring" itself.

But you might be interested to hear that ongoing research is showing us that these changes in a mother's brain cause us to become smarter. Not "smarter" in a streetwise kind of way necessarily, but actually measurably more intelligent. I'm talking about the "neural connectivity" kind of smarter. It turns out all the stumbling and fumbling and forgetting of pregnancy is just the brain making new connections, and essentially rewiring itself.

Dr. Adam Franssen has been studying the brains of rats, and how they change after childbirth. "Mother rats exhibit greater spatial memory (e.g., where's that food source again?), non-spatial memory (e.g. have you seen this before?), and are better at ancillary maternal behaviors such as increased boldness and improved foraging speed/efficiency," Franssen said in his recent AMA. "Importantly, these changes are reflected in the brain. There are structural changes to the brain and increases in activity in key regions like the hippocampus (memory) and frontal cortex (decision making)."

RELATED: A Day in the Life of My Mommy Brain

Now before all you child-free ladies get your panties in a bunch, there are lots of things that make us smarter. Taking up an instrument, learning a new language, traveling and even sleep all enhance neural connectivity. Are musicians "better" than non-musicians simply because they've experienced something that made them better? No. Are athletes better than the rest of us who like to sit on the couch and eat popcorn and also maybe sometimes ice cream on a daily basis? No. Motherhood makes us smarter — not "better."

So next time you forget to brush your teeth or you space some important detail, remember that your brain hasn't left you—it's just changing for the better.

Image via Twenty20/shannamphoto

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