Anxiety Through the Roof? Here’s How Your Maternal Brain has Changed

Neuroscience helps us understand why we feel anxious and what to do about it

maternal brain development and anxiety
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What was the most surprising, unexpected emotion you felt after your first child was born?

For me, it was the sudden, profound feeling that from that moment on, my sense of safety was forever tied to the wellbeing of this tiny human being in my arms. It was an overwhelming feeling – one I never could have anticipated. I felt vulnerable and helpless.

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Neuroscience tells us that our brain undergoes significant changes after we become mothers.

And one of them has to do with a heightened vigilance system: we have literally evolved to experience anxiety more easily and to a greater extent.  

It is not surprising, then, that most moms feel crushed by the pressure of anxiety and self-doubt. We fear that we can never be enough, and we put tremendous pressure upon ourselves.

But we were never designed to be in this alone; we were literally wired to share the care of our babies with others and to depend on them to feel safe and protected.  

A warm facial expression and tone of voice or physical proximity with a close friend or family member triggers feelings of connectedness and safety.

Ground-breaking research by brilliant neuroscientist Dr. Stephen Porges has shown that it is our biological imperative to connect and co-regulate with others. We use voice and facial expressions to moderate defensive reactions in ourselves and others.

Unfortunately, this too has become challenging in our modern life. We often find ourselves alone to care for one or more babies. It’s important to develop tools and find the support that can help us navigate these daily struggles.

maternal brain development and anxiety
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Written by Dr. Linnea Passaler

A surgeon and mom of a three, all currently under the age of five, Dr. Linnea is MamaDoctor's founder. She believes healthy virtual spaces where people can share their honest concerns and get help from knowledgeable, trustworthy sources, change lives for the better. She is an advocate for maternal mental health and wellbeing.