Baby Brain? Or Super Brain?

There was an article in the Telegraph last week supporting mums returning to work after having children (sad there needs to be an article supporting this really, #justsaying).

And not only that, but suggesting to employers that we’re the better choice when recruiting (I’m paraphrasing, but essentially, that’s what they’re suggesting.)

IMG_7301Naturally, as an Unemployed Mum, this caught my eye.

Research has previously shown that the female brain shrinks by up to seven per cent during pregnancy (wow!) possibly offering up reasoning behind the much fabled ‘baby brain’.

However, new research shows that it is specifically the ‘fight-or-flight’ area of the brain that reduces, and in fact, the female brain expands during pregnancy and is rewired to better cope with stress and increased demands.

Having a baby can improve employability and performance because post natal brains are re-wired to cope with the increased necessity to plan and multi-task [after having a baby], experts found.

Yet since being made redundant the week I went on Mat Leave two years ago, I have met and heard so many stories about pregnant women and new mothers being unfairly treated in the work place.

The response to my Unemployed Mum blog post back in October was overwhelming with women literally around the world getting in touch with sad stories of their own.

Some readers (and employers) may argue that although a mother may be better equipped to multitask, deal with stress and increased demand on her resources, this brain expansion merely ‘makes room’ for all the extra worries and things a mother has to consider at any point in time.

Add to that the fact she’s doing this on a fraction of the amount of sleep than a non-parent employee, and the image of super mum at work starts to fade a little.

This is true. Sleep helps the brain and body rest, heal and process the day. Without sleep, we don’t function at full capacity. Hard to deny this isn’t the ideal recipe for a kick-ass employee.

Yet alternative research shows that the mother’s brain is rewired after birth with regards to sleep patterns as well.

When newborn and young babies sleep, they have shorter sleep cycles than an adult (50-60mins vs. an adult’s 90-100mins) and experience the all important light, REM sleep first (approx 20mins) and restful, deep NREM sleep second (approx 30mins).

Some studies suggest a new parent’s sleep cycle swaps round to match a newborn’s ensuring they get the much needed REM sleep and a portion of NREM so they can function.  Studies have also shown that while sleep deprivation can cause impaired memory function at the time of sleep deprivation, this has no long-term effect on a person’s memory function or ability. Evolution at it’s best people.

So, back to the Telegraph article.

With this sleep cycle research in mind, you could argue that even if a mum is sleep deprived, her brain and body are built to withstand this and therefore, even if the new found brain expansion ‘merely makes room for’ all the extra motherhood concerns, aren’t we then – worst case scenario – just as capable as we always were?

So why is motherhood still perceived as a hinderance by some employers?

Truthfully, I didn’t buy into the thinking that since becoming a mum I am able to manage my time better or that I’m more organised, etc, etc. I thought it was something mum’s said to themselves to make themselves feel better – especially those of us who were mistreated by an employer when pregnant or because we were a parent.

But after reading the Telegraph article and seeking out other articles as a result, I admit I’m inclined to change my opinion.

Hopefully, as shared parental leave becomes the norm and our male counterparts begin to experience more of the same as mothers, opinions and practises will start to shift naturally.

But with 54,000 women dismissed or forced out of their jobs as a result of pregnancy and 100,000 experiencing harassment as a result of pregnancy in 2015*, can we wait that long?

You can read the full Telegraph article by Victoria Ward here

*stats provided by is not affiliated with any of the brands or organisations referenced in this blog post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this article, or would like more information on your rights as a parent on parental leave or when returning to work, check out who are working tirelessly to ensure parents (mums in particular) are treated fairly in the workplace. 


4 thoughts on “Baby Brain? Or Super Brain?

  1. Adele @ Beautiful Tribe says:

    What an interesting post! I’ve had quite a few conversations recently where I’ve admitted that my first child woke hourly for around a year and that I literally am not sure how I managed. It’s interesting that my biology may have actually adapted to cope.

    • amiecaitlin says:

      Hi Adele, I’m still wondering how I function some days and my daughter is nearly two! You just do thought, don’t you. Makes a lot of sense to me that our bodies would adjust even if our minds resist the lack of sleep!

  2. Tim says:

    What an interesting piece of research. Intuitively it makes sense that a woman’s body adapts to the demands of motherhood and I can see how that could be an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

    In my company we have a number of mums, including some in fairly senior roles, working X days a week or school hour days. Does it create logistical issues for employers having to flex around someone who doesn’t work an orthodox working week? Yes, undoubtedly. Is it worth it? When you have skilled, capable, dedicated mums – absolutely it is.

    • amiecaitlin says:

      Thanks Tim, in many cases tides are turning and employers are starting to realise women don’t cease to be employable and productive just because we have children, but there are many out there who sadly don’t yet share your views.

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