Forget Baby Brain: Pregnancy Can Boost Creative Productivity
Okay, so let’s not talk about the first trimester. That was pretty much a sleep-fest, though I do like toblame lockdownfor at least some of my laziness.
But now that I’ve been enjoying my second trimester for a solid two months, I can confirm that my creativity has spiked in ways I’d never have imagined.
I’d always been nervous about how having kids would affect my writing. After creatinglife, would building fictional worlds still hold the same appeal it once did? Would I still feel a need to write at all? Or, more realistically, would I have the time?
I can name at least a few famous Mom-authors off the top of my head, so I know that my anxiety isn’t realistic. But, at the same time, priorities change with children in the picture.
And it doesn’t help to read quotes like these:
“There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.”
-Cyril Connolly, Literary Critic
However, despite some of the (arguably sexist) beliefs about art and motherhood, my second trimester creativity binge has been something of a reassurance. In the past two months, I have:
- Started and completed the final draft of my next manuscript
- Drafted five new novel-length plot ideas
- Started painting for the first time since university
- Become a Medium writer
- Knitted way, way too many baby clothes
I know it may not be much for others, but for me, this is a significant increase in my creative output. While I can’t say for sure that Lockdown hasn’t helped clear more time to do things, I can say that my mind has been swimming with a million ideas a minute.
Science Agrees — Sort Of
There seems to be a widespread belief that pregnancy is so all-encompassing that we can’t function like we used to. We hear stories about “baby brain” getting in the way of short-term memory and simple tasks. But guess what? It’s probably not true.
Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, there isn’t much research about how pregnancy affects mental processing, but what a few studies are finding is that women’s cognitive performance doesn’t seem to decrease in pregnancy and motherhood (1).
There’s actually some evidence that we might gain some resourcefulness. Research into owl monkeys has found that mothers are better at devising effective strategies to reach food than their non-mother counterparts (1). This could point to similar mental processes in human brains that allow mothers to become more strategic.
And while it seems that our brain volume decreases by 7% in our last trimester, that shrinkage might be a result of “sculpting and specialisation, making these brain areas more efficient,” according to researchers (1).
Mother rats have also been found to be more efficient and better able to perform problem-solving tasks , according to Kelly G. Lambert, a professor of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Richmond(2). Similar to humans, a mother rodent’s brain requires adaptive flexibility.
“Flexibility and thinking outside of the box — isn’t that what creativity is?” asks Lambert.
Even better, those stories about pregnancy intuition? They may be legitimate. In two separate studies, researchers found that 70% of pregnant women“guessed” their baby’s gender correctly.
“The fact that two different labs got similar effects suggests it’s not a fluke,” says psychology lecturer Victor Shamas, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona.
While the research that exists so far looks promising, there definitely isn’t enough to scientifically confirm a boost in creativity. Additionally, the few studies we’ve seen seem focused on motherhood more than pregnancy.
Still, from what we do know, there seems to be a correlation between maternal changes and improved cognition and intuition.
Where There’s A Lack of Scientific Research, There’s an Abundance of Anecdotal Evidence.
I’m not the only expecting mom to maintain — and in some cases increase — my creativity. Here are just a few examples:
NovelistBarbara Kingsolver wrote her debut novel, The Bean Trees,while pregnant and suffering from insomnia.
Kingsolver isn’t the only ultra-famous author to debut while pregnant. JodiePicoult wrote her first novel, Songs of the Humpback Whalewhile pregnant with her first.
Tania Unsworth, author of The Seahorseand Before We Began, didn’t start writing fiction seriously until her first pregnancy.
Musician Eliza Moorestates, “I…hadn’t expected that pregnancy would be one of the most creative times of my life. I can’t explain it rationally, but for me, when I am pregnant, I have a sense of doubled artistic power.”
I know that not all pregnancies are the same, and many women struggle to get through the day. Pregnancy is hard work, and I personally believe it’s an under-appreciated art form in itself.
So if you’re pregnant and feel your creative juices have been all but squeezed out, that doesn’t mean you aren’t doing something as magical and transformative as painting the Mona Lisa.
You’re creatinglife, and you’re doing it 24/7 for up to ten months.
But if you are feeling well enough, and you get that urge to write, paint, or produce the next Broadway show, do it! Channel that increased intuition and create something magical.
That said, please excuse me while I use my “baby brain” to write my debut bestseller.
- Young, Emma. “The Real Baby Brain.” (2019). The Human Brain. NewScientist: The Collection; pgs. 74–77.
- Hayasaki, Erika. “How Motherhood Affects Creativity.” (2017). The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/09/how-motherhood-affects-creativity/539418/