If you’ve ever forgotten something and written it off as “mommy brain,” you’re not alone; described as a combination of memory loss, confusion, and the sense that you’ve dropped a few IQ points, “Mommy brain” is its own strange phenomenon. Until recently, though, we’ve largely overlooked the more complex reasons why it occurs: when we have children, our brains actually grow.
In order to help us take on the new tasks associated with parenting, we experience brain growth in areas associated with multitasking, empathy, and threat response. Although we have long recognized brain-plasticity, we’ve long concluded that our brains don’t grow during adulthood. As with so many things, though, maternity has the power to turn science on its head.
If we consider the fact that our brains are undergoing dramatic shifts in that post-baby period, it raises the question of whether we can take advantage of these neurological changes to enhance our learning. Your maternity leave period may be the perfect time to learn a new skill – and could help prepare you to go back to work.
Boost Your Career
Our maternity leave system is unfortunately broken, so most women are faced with the choice of going right back to work or staying home on unpaid leave. One advantage to staying home, though, is that you can get the added education you need to move into a more lucrative position by undertaking online coursework.
In less than a year, you can complete training online in medical insurance billing and coding or another quickly growing field. Though growth in the empathy area of your brain may not help with this, the part of your brain committed to multitasking is also growing, so why not challenge it by pairing infant care with professional development.
Those first few months with a new baby can feel pretty out of control, which is a contributing factor in depression and anxiety. However, learning new skills, even if they’re small or associated with a leisure activity, can help you feel a sense of mastery. The important part is the act of learning something, not what you learn. As Lydia Dishman writes of learning a new thing every day for a month, the undertaking helped her feel more accomplished, which is certainly not a bad thing when the laundry is piling up and your house is littered with baby toys.
Find A Community
It’s a simple fact that our friendships change after having a baby. Our childless friends don’t want to hang out with our little bundle of joy and we don’t have readymade friends in our children’s classmates, as will happen as they age. That can leave you feeling a little lonely in those first months after giving birth. And though you can go to a baby gym or music class, we all need a little me time, which is why it’s the perfect time to pick up a new hobby.
Whether you’re going to pick up a forgotten pastime like knitting or sewing or learn something entirely new, going to a class or meet-up is the perfect way to make new friends, get out of the house, and focus on your interests. You don’t have to commit a lot of time to it – even an hour a week can do you a lot of good.
There are countless reasons to learn a new skill during maternity leave, from boosting your career to beating back boredom, but most importantly, by training your brain on something new, you’ll beat back some of the symptoms of “mommy brain.” Yes, you’ll still forget things from time to time, and it won’t put an end to sleep deprivation, but at the end of the day, you can point to your educational undertakings and feel like you’ve gained a few IQ points, rather than lost them.