Mommy Brains and Menopause; Am I Losing My Mind?

Mommy Brain Syndrome first reared its ugly head when I became a new mom at 46. At the time I didn’t know it had a name. But I knew I wasn’t my old self and I knew I wasn’t alone. Plenty of younger moms complained about forgetfulness.

For the six years since, I’ve been trying to brush it off. But finally it got to be enough of an embarrassment; I decided it was time to do some research.

So I sat down at my computer and opened a search query.  Then I went to go fetch a glass of water. And when I came back , I couldn’t recall for the life of me what I’d been searching for.

What Is Mommy Brain Syndrome?

As defined by mothers everywhere, “mommy brain syndrome” or MBS is a condition where a once sharp, focused female mind becomes fuzzy and scattered. We find ourselves losing our keys, leaving the oven on, forgetting names and appointments, and wondering why we just entered a room.

Reportedly, MBS begins during pregnancy and continues through the first few months of motherhood. Then, according to studies, the hormones affecting our brain chemistry and our memories go back to their pre-pregancy levels. We return to our normal, sharp-as-a-tack, pre-pregnancy selves.


Only I’m not so sure…

Google the term “mommy brain” and you’ll find about a gazillion references and anecdotes from mothers in all walks of life. It’s not just the new moms, it’s ALL moms, it seems.


It’s not surprising. Juggling the demands of work, marriage, and child-rearing is enough to make anyone’s head spin. And it can lead to inadequate sleep and exercise, and a lapse in eating habits.

None of this makes for a happy brain. But for older moms, the story doesn’t end there. “Brain fog” is also a symptom of menopause. We’ll call this type PMB (perimenopausal brain). And when MBS and PMB collide, you’re in for a double whammy.

Where Did The Old Me Go?  (Menopausal Brain)

The root causes of PMB and MBS are similar. Both phenomena can be symptoms of overload and fluctuating hormones. In the case of an older mother, there are additional stressors unique to the age group.

For one, many older moms have to balance caretaking responsibilities for both their children and their own aging parents.

Then, as reported by neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, MD ( author of the book “The Female Brain”) hormonal changes associated with menopause can actually alter the way we relate to our children and spouse. Less estrogen means less oxytocin, a hormone that promotes feelings of nurturing and caretaking.

Without it, we’re more inclined toward self-care than nurturing others. We’re also less likely to “bite our lip” and put up with things. This can lead to more conflict when others make demands .

Get It Yourself!

And naturally, as our monthly cycle of fluctuating hormones comes to a close and hormone levels change to a steady state, we experience mood swings.

Fear not, though, we are rational beings and not slaves to our hormones. Menopause doesn’t mandate that we’ll stop caring for our children or become permanently edgy and argumentative. But it does require us to adapt and adjust. And that’s another stressor to cope with.

In addition, menopausal moms may be sharing space with preteens, who are about to begin their own hormonal roller coaster ride.

Got enough on your plate yet?

The good new is that menopausal brain fog is temporary. Once you’re through menopause, brain function returns to normal. (Egad, my great grandmother never STOPPED having hot flashes!) and your memory snaps back to its old self.

This is only partial consolation for those of us whose kids won’t leave for college (assuming they actually do leave) until our late fifties and beyond. We still have lots of mothering to do post-menopause. So as PMB subsides, MBS can still provide comic relief for the entire family.

Take the other morning, when I poured the cat’s breakfast into my own cereal bowl…then sat down to type and  repeatedly hit “enter”,  wondering why my keyboard kept creating more white space instead of a capital letter. I’m not getting stupid, really. I’m just perpetually distracted.

2 Responses to Mommy Brains and Menopause; Am I Losing My Mind?

  1. Abigael November 17, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

    I am a faster and stregnor runner after having my daughter than before. I’ve run a 3:48 marathon time (30-34 age group) , and am aiming to qualify for Boston this coming October. Here’s how I did it, despite a long pregnancy, lack of sleep, and living in a very hot climate.Whatever you do, stay active. When I got pregnant with my daughter, I ran for the first 5 months of the pregnancy. My Dr. told me that I could continue any level of exercise I was doing before, but just to keep my heart rate at or below 140 bpm. At 20 weeks, though, running felt really awkward, and my bladder would not cooperate with running! My husband and I decided to invest in a treadmill so that I could continue exercising during the pregnancy and after the baby was born, on my own schedule, no matter what the weather. AFter that, I walked 4 miles, 4 days a week on my treadmill. Our treadmill came with a heart-rate monitor so I could slow down when my exertions were too much. My daughter was 2 weeks late and I walked for those last two weeks as well. I was induced but was able to give birth without any meds. I give a lot of the credit to my walking schedule it kept up my endurance, fitness, and stamina. I began walking probably about a week after my daughter was born. I needed that me time, no matter how short it was. I was doing lite jogs again by the end of the first month. I also breastfed my daughter, and that helped with post-partum recovery and weight-loss. I bought a jogging stroller and used it about 3 days per week, plus the treadmill when weather was inclement. By the time my daughter was 4 months old, I had lost all my pregnancy weight and actually weighed less than I did before I got pregnant. Still do!I kept steadily running, increasing my milage, running 3-5 days per week while my daughter slept. My husband, who is also a runner, encouraged me and watched the baby on the weekends so that I could do longer runs. At that time, I still didn’t know if I would ever do a marathon again but I did sign up for a race or two to give myself a goal. Running continues to be a great source of satisfaction for me an outlet, a feel-good activity, and something that helps me define who I am outside of my job as a mom. I recommend to moms who run to get slowly back into your running routine post-partum, gradually building mileage, and to get supportive gear if you’re nursing. Remember, the better you treat yourself, the more you’ll have to give to your baby and your husband so take that precious time and get back to being a runner girl!

  2. Cherni November 19, 2012 at 5:07 am #

    Unfortunately during my pgcanrney I had several complications. I was actually training for my first marathon when I found out I was pregnant. I tried to stay active but had a lot of spotting. At 21 weeks I started dilating early so I spent the next 6 weeks on my side in a hospital bed and then was on full bedrest at home until 36 weeks. Finally I was allowed to start moving around, so until she was born I tried to start walking again to regain some of the fitness I had lost (lost a LOT of muscle lying down for 4 months). Of course after all of that I went past my due date, so that gave me a few weeks to try to build up some strength so I could carry her up and down the stairs!!I had to take it easy for quite a while after she was born to make sure I didn’t injure myself. Finally when she was about 6 months old I started training for a triathlon. I nursed for the first year, and like others I either fed her or pumped before working out and wore a really supportive sports bra (or two). I won a contest at work and was supposed to get a Wii but asked my boss to get me a jogging stroller instead the best piece of gear ever! Now she’s 3 and we still go for runs together. I think the key has just been making it a priority. I’ve made it clear that if mommy didn’t get her workouts in things were not going to go well at home, so my fiance is more than willing to watch her on longer workouts! I go to bed early so I can work out before work. And I make sure my daughter understands how important being fit (and having fun) is. She loves going for runs (perhaps because it coincides with a trip to the playground or somewhere else fun), and we have lots of fun exploring the neighborhood together. The best part is she likes to pretend she’s like mommy and running in races we have to cheer for her as she runs laps around the house. She’ll even run in her first race the weekend of July 4th our town has a Tot Trot where the youngest kids do a short race and get a ribbon. She’s very excited and I cannot wait to cheer her to the finish line!HollyDes Moines, IA1 kid age 3