Please Stop Using the Phrase 'Mom Brain'

There's no denying the bias that still exists against pregnant people and new moms. Let's not add to the preconception that mothers are in any way less capable than they were pre-baby by using this silly phrase.

illustration of mother sitting at desk in front of window with clouds outside. one of the clouds overlaps her head.
Photo: Illustration by Pete Ryan

"Oh, is it a case of pregnancy brain?" The question was asked innocently enough when I was about seven months pregnant with my daughter. I honestly think I would have hesitated to answer the question whether I was pregnant or not. I must have looked at my coworker a bit strange because he went on to explain his assumption. Apparently, his former manager suffered from the affliction. As he put it, "She was always forgetting things and blamed it on her pregnancy brain."

The terms "pregnancy brain" and "mom brain" are used pretty commonly, and not only in the workplace. Oftentimes these phrases are thrown about casually in conversation with no ill intentions behind them. And like my old coworker's former manager, many women even use these phrases to explain their own forgetfulness.

After all, there have been studies done over the last decade that support claims that a mother or mom-to-be's brain does in fact change. At least for the period of time while they are pregnant and for up to two years postpartum. According to one study, the amount of gray matter volume in areas subserving social cognition is altered in a pregnant woman's brain and remains at decreased levels after the baby is born. This adjustment is thought to support postpartum maternal attachment.

While our brains, not to mention our lives, are altered in so many (incredible) ways once we have children, we don't lose our drive, experience, or value.

But here's the thing: Moms and moms-to-be are often already singled out in the workplace. It's been described as the "motherhood penalty." In recent research conducted on the modern family, it was found that 72 percent of "both working moms and dads agree that women are penalized in their careers for starting families, while men are not." Further, 69 percent of Americans say working moms are more likely to be passed up for a new job than other employees. And other research has shown men receive a 6 percent increase in pay when they become dads, while mothers lose 4 percent in their wages for every child.

Those are just a few tangible elements of the disparity—and they don’t end there. Bullying moms using these phrases is just making the problem worse. I mean, even Urban Dictionary's definition of "mom brain" reeks of marginalization: Lack of normal brain function that the non-mom does not possess. After birthing a child, you forget things frequently and don't remember what you did five minutes ago.

Why can't we just appreciate that there's a learning curve when it comes to taking care of an infant? And that it's not so much "mom brain" as it's "I've only slept three hours in three days brain." Not to mention that dads can experience the same symptoms—forgetfulness, slowness, tiredness—yet we rarely hear anyone attribute their less-than-stellar performance to "dad brain."

By tying any kind of inadequacy to the circumstance of being a mom, we're only strengthening the stigma. While our brains, not to mention our lives, are altered in so many (incredible) ways once we have children, we don't lose our drive, experience, or value.

Let's retire these phrases. As parents, we know the challenges firsthand and maybe this is one actionable step in the right direction.

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