Now you’ve had a baby, does it seem impossible to remember anything? Once you could manage 15 staff, but since you’ve given birth, you struggle to recall even whether you put your knickers on that morning. If this sounds familiar, it looks like you’re suffering mumnesia, or ‘mummy brain’.
Celebrity yummy mummy Myleene Klass has admitted to suffering from mumnesia during her pregnancy – repeatedly calling George Clooney ‘George Bush’ during one live TV interview.
“These days, I really struggle to follow conversations. If someone asks me a question it takes a few seconds to decipher it – it’s as though they’re speaking in a foreign language,” says Victoria, 32, a journalist used to working with tight deadlines and multi-tasking in her years BC (before child), and mum to Mollie, 12 weeks.
Why do we get mumnesia?
There’s no single reason for it, but scientists believe the condition has biological causes. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studied mumnesia and came up with the following reasons for why we get it.
Lack of sleep
Tiredness is a major factor as to why we lose it slightly when we bring a child into this world. Mums lose an average of between 450 and 700 hours in the first year a baby is born.
According to a study published by the British Medical Journal in 2000, sleep deprivation has similar debilitating effects to being drunk, without the joy of the yummy cocktail beforehand. “Tiredness lowers attention, and attention has a very large role in the learning of new information or new experiences,” explains neuroscientist Dr John Gabrieli. “People whose attention is diminished learn and remember poorly. They then can’t remember recent things.”
Motherhood is fantastic, but it’s also incredibly stressful. And this doesn’t help your mushy baby brain.
“A complete change of routine, the realisation that you’re responsible for a child’s life, plus the shock of not being able to know automatically how to care for your own child can cause anxiety, resulting in memory loss,” explains Cath Jarvis, a psychiatric nurse. “Feelings of inadequacy or inability to cope don’t help, and without support you can end up running around in circles trying to be Supermum.”
Baby comes first
“New mothers are dedicated to serving their little baby and are determined to keep him alive no matter what,” says neuropsychiatrist Dr Louann Brizendine. “That’s each mum’s number one priority. Consequently less important matters get forgotten, or at least put into a less active area of the brain.”
How long do we have mumnesia?
Women experience different degrees of mumnesia and some suffer more than others. In general, though, it’s acknowledged that the memory lapse is temporary. Phew!
“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.”
“Even four years on I still have some ‘senior moments’. I find myself going upstairs and then wondering what I have gone up for,” says Carol, 38, mum to Isabel, 4. “I also seem to have lost some spatial awareness. I have smashed a glass by not lifting it high enough to put on a shelf and I regularly knock over bottles and jars because I think they’re further away. No question that age has a hand in this too, though.”
How to beat mumnesia
Now you’ve got a name for your post-baby forgetfulness, what can you do about it?
To counter the memory lapses, most women rely on lists. “My husband laughs at my endless list-making. I need lists about my lists. But I’d be lost without them,” says Julia, 38, mum to Lilly, 3. “Before lists, I would constantly either double-book or forget appointments – I was so scatterbrained. Now I feel in control again.”
It’s also recommended to avoid certain stressful situations in the first year of having a baby, such as moving house and changing jobs.
“But being aware of your stresses, allowing yourself to be tired and stressed sometimes – instead of beating yourself up for being tired and stressed – is half the battle,” advises Cath Jarvis.
And remember, mumnesia is nature’s way of teaching you to be a mum, which means sometimes the only thing left to do is to develop a sense of humour about things, put your feet up – and just be.
The positive side to mumnesia
It makes you more efficient
“I now do things as soon as I remember them, such as paying bills and doing paperwork, because otherwise I know I’ll forget them and they’ll never get done,” says Janine, 36, mum to Lucy, 4.
It absolves you of all responsibility
“How often do we mums get to blame something we do on a medical condition? Thank God for those scientists,” says Lisa, 39, mum to Kayleigh, 8 months.
It could inspire a new hobby
“Part of why I decided to write a blog while on maternity leave was to keep my brain in gear so that it won’t be too difficult to slip back into work mode,” says Victoria, 32, mum to Mollie, 12 weeks.
You’re suffering from mumnesia if:
- You go to call the cat and can’t remember its name.
- You bump into large pieces of furniture repeatedly, even though they’re in the exact same place they’ve been for years.
- You realise you’ve driven away from the garage with the petrol cap still on the roof of the car.
- You’re unable to park in a space that would swamp a tank.
- Reading to the end of the first page of the first chapter of the new Harry Potter is beyond you.
“I couldn’t remember a friend’s name”
“I was at a party talking to a friend of mine when we were joined by someone else I knew. But I couldn’t introduce them to each other as I couldn’t remember my friend’s name!”
Janine, 36, mum to Lucy, 4
“I forget the dessert”
“I went to dinner at a friend’s house and, after the main course, we all sat waiting for a very long time until I realised that I had agreed to bring dessert, then forgotten all about it. The hostess had to hastily rustle something up from the freezer!”
Carol, 38, mum to Isabel, 4
“I locked my baby in the house”
“I locked myself out of the house (with my baby inside) and had to call my father-in-law who lives down the road and has a spare key to come to the rescue.”
Victoria, 32, mum to Mollie, 12 weeks