Caring for the Postpartum Brain - Happy as a Mother

Caring for the Postpartum Brain

with Neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor


  • The Impact of Sleep Deprivation On Our Brain
  • The Effect Of Screen Time On Sleep
  • Nutrition And Our Brain During The Postpartum Period
  • Alcohol’s Impact on The Brain
  • Movement’s Impact On Our Brain

Are you well rested today? I’m not! Moms don’t get a lot of sleep, and new moms get almost none. This can be hard on our brain. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is here to explain how we can best care for our brains during seasons of life when getting a full night’s sleep is all but impossible.

The Impact of Sleep Deprivation On Our Brain

“We’ve got ten trillion cells inside of the brain, and these are little living creatures,” Dr. Bolte Taylor said. Like all living things, these cells eat and create waste. What happens to your newborn if you don’t clean up the waste immediately?

Sleep cleans out the waste created by these cells. Not clearing that waste is almost like a diaper rash on your brain! “If we don’t get a good night’s sleep after especially two nights—or if we’re a new parent night after night after night—it’s like we’re trying to create a new system,” she said.

“That’s how the brain feels. Our brain health is reflected in our cardiovascular system, and our cardiovascular system is everywhere. Our brain controls our respiratory system,” Dr. Bolte Taylor explained.

These cells are alive and creating waste too, and then we might get a foreign substance coming in. The immune system takes care of this. Our bodies are a network of systems, and sleep keeps everything going.

“Sleep is a tool that the brain uses to bring it back into its own balance,” Dr. Bolte Taylor explained. “We are feeling creatures who think.” 

The more sleep-deprived we become the less stimulation it takes our neurons to detect threats. In other words, we may snap at things we wouldn’t if we were well-rested, or get overly anxious about things we might otherwise be able to think through.

The Effect of Screen Time On Sleep

“Sleep is critically important,” Dr. Bolte Taylor said. “Spend as little time as possible on the ipad, on the computer, on the phone.”

“Screen time has a profound impact on the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is our natural light/dark cycle. Your body wants to sleep when it’s dark,” Dr. Bolte Taylor explained. And screen time messes with that natural rhythm.

Nutrition And Our Brain During The Postpartum Period

“Pay attention to how certain foods feel inside our body,” Dr. Bolte Taylor said. You don’t have to be allergic to something to be intolerant to it. An allergy is a severe reaction, but intolerance can cause inflammation which can be uncomfortable and even painful without being the severe reaction of an allergy.

Inflammation is linked to depressive mood. “The sugar molecule is actually a razor sharp molecule,” Dr. Bolte Taylor said “The molecule is so sharp as it passes through these really narrow passageways it cuts the wall of the blood vessel.” 

Once the cell has been cut, it’s open and communicates with other cells that it’s been damaged. Your immune system goes to work to clean up the stuff that was inside the cell which causes swelling. Swelling then restricts those cells tighter. 

Inflammation keeps your joints from moving properly, and it’s not going to be a single joint like your knee. It’s every single joint, because you’re dealing with inflammation. “If my body is inflamed, my brain is on overload trying to figure out what to do,” she said. 

Your brain wants to send the janitorial system to clean up the inflammation. But the inflammation is all over your body, so it doesn’t know where to start. When your brain is overwhelmed, your threshold for anxiety goes down. This is one place mommy rage can come from.

With a lower threshold for anxiety, you have a greater potential for depressive moods, and you’re more likely to feel vulnerable too. 

“A nervous breakdown is an overload of everything going on. There’s too much. I can’t manage it. I feel out of control. I don’t feel safe,” Dr. Bolte Taylor said. “I think we can all relate to that feeling.”

Alcohol’s Impact on The Brain

“Let’s say there’s a thousand people in a tight room, and this is normal. This is just how we function,” Dr. Bolte Taylor said. “As soon as we put alcohol in, we all start to dehydrate a little.” The thousand people packed into that room go from happy plums to prunes. 

As the cells dehydrate, they can’t communicate with each other. You feel relaxed because your brain cells can’t function, and if you drink enough, you can take some of those brain cells down permanently. You kill them. 

Alcohol is not good for the brain. We can see this in the brains of alcoholics. They’ve lost brain cells.

“So what do we do instead? Go for a walk. Pick up that infant and walk around the neighborhood,” Dr. Bolte Taylor suggested. “Be kind to your own body.”

You might still choose to have wine on the weekend with your friends. That’s okay, but you may also want to cut it out when you have a tough week. Be mindful about it, and make the decisions that are going to be the most empowering for you.

“Before we go away from alcohol, there is a whole lot of sugar in alcohol. So that goes right back to, on top of the dehydration of these cells, we’re pumping our cells with sugar and that goes back to the dehydration,” Dr. Bolte Taylor explained. 

New moms are literally managing insanity since infants come into the world with a completely undeveloped brain. She said she’d rather have you soak in a bubble bath than go for the other bubbly, and I agree. Much of the information we’re given in pregnancy is about how to care for the baby. Not ourselves.

So, I developed a free postpartum checklist centered around the idea of NESTS, Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep, Time for self, and Support. This free resource has you map out how you’re going to prioritize these things in the postpartum period. No one mothers the mother during this transition, so I want to help you do it for yourself.

Self-soothing is going to help you have a higher threshold for anxiety. “If my level of rage is easily triggerable, what that says to me is that my threshold level of my own biology is out of sync. I need help,” Dr. Bolte Taylor said.  

Movement’s Impact On Our Brain

The cardiovascular system moves all of the nutrition to all of the cells. “If we’re having a problem with the quality of sleep, our own movement system is saying, ‘I need to exhaust myself,’” Dr. Bolte Taylor said. We need the movement in our own body.

This doesn’t mean you need to add a gym routine to your already hectic schedule. It can mean moving all of the laundry up and down the stairs or walking with your kids to the playground. 

If you’re finding you’re in a season where you’re having insomnia, it might be a good time to think about cutting caffeine, moving more, and implementing a sleep hygiene routine.

When you’re overwhelmed because you have a thousand things to do, your anxiety threshold is low, and it can be easy to snap. If you’re struggling to manage your own rage level, the mommy rage bundle is available for a limited time. This bundle will be phased out, so it won’t be back.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard trained and published neuroanatomist. In 1996 she experienced a severe hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain causing her to lose the ability to walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. Dr. Taylor is a dynamic teacher and public speaker who loves educating all age groups, academic levels, as well as corporations about the beauty of our human brain and its ability to recover from trauma. In 2008 she gave the first TED talk that ever went viral on the Internet, which now has well over 26 million views. Also in 2008, Dr. Taylor was chosen as one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” and was the premiere guest on Oprah Winfrey’s “Soul Series” webcast.





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