If you've had a baby, you know that cloudy feeling of not only asking yourself, 'Why did I walk into this room?' or 'What did I plan to do with the kids today?' but also questioning, 'Who even am I...?'
Brain fog is that clouded mental state characterised by difficulties with focus, concentration, or memory. While it's commonly associated with hormonal shifts in new mothers during the postpartum period or menopausal women, anyone can experience brain fog.
Personally, I found this symptom of mental cloudiness to be one of the most debilitating during my postpartum journey and beyond. Unfortunately, I learned about the increasingly common condition of postpartum depletion the hard way. When my baby turned one, a combination of unaddressed nutrient deficiencies and pushing my body beyond its limits resulted in a long list of health issues falling under the umbrella term 'postpartum depletion.'
Among all the symptoms, brain fog was the one that compounded everything else. I was constantly exhausted and fatigued, experienced low mood and anxiety, faced the resurgence of my period with a vengeance after stopping breastfeeding, and caught colds and flus frequently. However, even as a Clinical Nutritionist, brain fog made it challenging to think clearly or find the motivation to engage in activities that I knew would help.
Brain fog can be a normal part of motherhood during pregnancy and for a few weeks to months after giving birth, and it can sometimes make you feel like you've left your brain in the delivery room. During this time, when it's expected to feel this way, it shouldn't significantly impact your daily life.
In the first few months after having a baby, it's normal to experience a certain degree of brain fog. We can attribute this mental cloudiness to a combination of factors, including the physical and emotional stress of childbirth, the overwhelming adjustment to newborn life, and, of course, sleep deprivation.
However, when mental fogginess extends beyond a few weeks postpartum, affects your daily life, and is accompanied by other symptoms like ongoing fatigue, low immunity, digestive problems, hormonal imbalances, thyroid dysregulation, and unstable moods, it's important to take action and investigate and improve your health.
Here are some other reasons for persistent brain fog in motherhood:
Stress: When your brain is stuck in a stress response, it becomes nearly impossible to concentrate, learn new information, or rely on your memory. Stress or overwhelm is common in the lives of mothers, but we must have tools to help us turn off this response when it's not needed.
Poor Sleep: Inadequate or poor-quality sleep is another cause of brain fog. Stress, a busy lifestyle, or sleep disturbances can contribute to a lack of mental clarity. To optimise brain function, we need at least 7 hours of quality sleep each night. Insufficient sleep can lead to weight gain, sugar cravings, and brain fog.
Blood Sugar Imbalances: Your brain relies on steady levels of glucose in your blood for focus, memory, and clarity. Skipping meals or consuming meals high in sugar can cause fluctuations in blood glucose levels, especially during breakfast or lunch. Low or fluctuating blood sugar can lead to cravings for quick energy fixes such as coffee, sugary foods, and refined carbohydrates like muffins or cakes, all of which can impact your brain.
Leaky Gut or Gut Imbalances: Disruptions in the balance of good bacteria in the gut can cause fatigue, anxiety, depression, and affect focus, memory, and concentration. The balance in the gut can be disrupted by stress, diet, a history of antibiotic use, leaky gut, and other imbalances. Therefore, restoring gut health is a step I take with all my clients who experience brain fog.
Nutrient Deficiencies: Due to soil depletion, reliance on convenience foods, and the long distances that food travels these days, it's easy to miss out on the nutrients your brain needs for optimal health. The top macronutrients that nourish our brains are proteins, which provide the building blocks for neurotransmitters involved in brain and nervous system signalling, and fats, which serve as the basis for healthy cells and the brain's preferred fuel source.
Thyroid Hormone Imbalances: Your thyroid gland and hormones also play a role in maintaining brain health. Hypothyroidism, characterised by an underactive thyroid, can have a known impact on cognitive function and cause focus and memory problems.
So, where should you start if you want to improve your brain fog?
While there can be numerous causes and potential treatments for brain fog, focusing on the basics of health is always a good starting point.
Diet: Ensure a varied, whole food, unrefined diet to ensure you're getting enough nutrient variety and optimal quantities. Consider including a good quality multivitamin if necessary.
Smoothie Love! Incorporate a variety of vegetables and fruits into your daily diet. Aim for 8-10 servings per day, as they provide brain-boosting nutrients and have anti-inflammatory properties. Your brain also requires B-vitamins for optimal cognitive function. Healthy sources of protein and fats are essential for brain fuel, repair, and cell function.
Franjos Kitchen Motherhood Blend takes all these factors into account, providing protein, essential fatty acids, and the added benefits of superfood ingredients like maca and Cordyceps. I love having a midday smoothie with Franjos Motherhood Blend to beat brain fog, boost energy, and curb cravings later in the day. Simply add it to frozen berries, frozen greens like spinach, nut butter, almond milk, ice, and blend.
Hydration: Even a slight drop in hydration levels can impact your brain power. Start your day with lemon water with a pinch of rock salt or add a scoop of Franjos Kitchen Motherhood Hydration Powder to your water bottle to stay hydrated.
Stress Management: Managing stress is essential for clearer thinking. Relaxation practices such as meditation, spending time in nature, deep breathing exercises, yoga, and gentle exercise can all shift your brain out of survival mode. L-theanine, found in Franjos Motherhood Blend, is a supplement that can help manage stress. As a mom and nutritionist, it's my go-to adaptogen for improving stress tolerance and helping me cope with the challenges of life with a toddler while juggling work.
Breakfast: Start your day with a healthy, hormone-balancing breakfast that includes foods high in quality protein and healthy fats. For example, try having 3 eggs cooked in coconut or olive oil with half an avocado on the side.
Gut-Loving Foods: Incorporate gut-loving fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and consider adding a probiotic supplement to improve your gut environment, which in turn supports better brain function. Cut out inflammatory foods and drinks, such as alcohol and refined sugars, as they can cause brain inflammation.
Give some of these strategies a try and see how you feel. While there may be other reasons for your brain fog or mental cloudiness, it's important to consult a medical doctor if you've recently experienced sudden changes in cognitive function. I hope this information helps, but please feel free to contact me after you've seen your GP to see if I can assist you in thinking more clearly, having more energy, and making the most out of life.
Guest writer: Michelle Meredith, Holistic Women’s Health Clinical Nutritionist, busy mum (to one human and one fur baby) and reformed fad dieter.