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How Caregiving Affects Your Mind at Work and Home

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There’s hard data and research to back up the fact that caregivers of all types experience a true cognitive change after the addition of a new baby.

If you’re feeling like your brain has become rewired after welcoming a new baby into your life, you are not alone. 

There’s hard data and research to back up the fact that caregivers of all types experience a true cognitive change after the addition of a new baby. While we’ve all been conditioned to refer to this as “Mommy Brain,” the truth is that caregiving for an infant affects everyone who is actively participating—including mothers, fathers, grandparents and even non-biological guardians.

How a New Baby Changes Our Brains

All active caregivers for your baby will likely experience some sort of cognitive change. You might notice it in your partner, in your parents or even in yourself.

Common cognitive changes include:

  • More empathy
  • More responsive to cries
  • Meet the needs of the child

This Change is Good for our Babies

If you are feeling these changes, it’s nothing to worry about.

In fact, it’s actually pretty great for your child. In a way, these brain changes prove that your caregivers are doing the hard work your child needs to succeed, grow, and bond. 

“Infant and parent brains and bodies undergo rapid growth and transformation during the transition to parenting, presenting a unique opportunity to positively impact two generations,” writes the Ascend Aspen Institute in their work studying this period of rapid brain change. “Having an effective caregiver present, regardless of the degree of biological relation to the child, benefits a child’s well-being.”

Dealing with Brain Changes at Work

These brain changes don’t have a time clock. They don’t go away once your baby is with their caregiver. Brain changes affect your work life, as well. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing—in fact, often the opposite—and both are worth acknowledging.

Because of these cognitive changes you may find yourself needing more support in certain areas of the workplace, while excelling in others. It’s all part of this new cognitive shift.

“All caregivers experience a cognitive change as the result of a new baby, which means the need for support from our employers from a caregiving perspective is essential to how we are literally wired as humans,” Parental Leave Advocate Mary Beth Ferrante, PCC wrote on the subject. 

Sometimes that support means bringing in more help at home, sometimes it’s asking for different responsibilities at work or different types of support to accommodate your new reality. Having open communication with your family and work supervisors is critical.

“We know that caregivers’ brains actually change in response to the arrival of a baby,” wrote Mariel Benjamin, Director of Groups at Cooper Parenting on Linkedin. “That introduction, role, and identity shift goes way beyond the ‘nice to have’ and actually becomes essential to who we are as employees in the workforce and as people in relationships throughout our lives.”

An Asset in the Workplace

There are many ways these brain changes make caregivers even more of an asset to your workplace. 

Caretaking strengthens your adaptable thinking, strategic thinking, self-monitoring, negotiation skills, and compromise skills. Basically, your new baby is giving you a MBA in executive function. (PS: Here’s our post on how to harness those skills into more value at work!)

Here at Vivvi, we’re working to change the workplace conversation about parenthood by acknowledging the professional strengths and abilities gained as the caregiver of a young child.

Employer Support for Caregivers Matters

Luckily, many employers are beginning to understand these cognitive changes exist—and affect more than just the birthing parent—and support their employees as they transition into caregivers and beyond.

While child care benefits—from backup care to care reimbursements to onsite child care—make a huge impact, there are many other ways that employers can support caregiving employees too. The Ascend Aspen Institute shares recommendations to help employers step up and support their employees during this time.

  1. Expand parenting programs to include fathers and non-biological caregivers and make communication inclusive of them (examples: “parent group” instead of “mother’s group”).
  2. When working with caregivers to change parenting behaviors, acknowledge that one’s own history of adversity or trauma and/or current mental health symptoms can make the monumental task of parenting even more difficult. Focusing on the caregivers’ own personhood and need for well-being prior to and alongside child needs is key.
  3. Screen all caregivers for mental health difficulties (e.g., anxiety, depression, PTSD) and provide appropriate, varied, non-stigmatized resources as needed.
  4. Include this research in awareness-raising, education, and training efforts to ensure pediatric and workforce practitioners are informed.
  5. Ensure parents have access to this research as programs are designed to maximize the opportunities presented by the transition to parenting

Push for Policy Change

As the reality of what being a caregiver does to our brains becomes more recognized, many groups and organizers are pushing for policy change to address the issue in a workplace setting.

The AAI also works to change the policy narrative for parents, and have detailed their recommendations for policy change related to this vital information.

  1. Expand who is considered an important caregiver to beyond mothers. For example: incentivize and support fathers and non-biological parents to access social and mental health services designed to improve caregiving outcomes.
  2. Remove non-empirically supported and discriminatory heteronormative laws surrounding adoption and foster care that prevent recognition of non-biologic and homosexual caregivers, who play important roles in fostering infant and child outcomes.
  3. Improve screening for and access to mental health services for all caregivers and support programming that directly improves caregivers’ stress management.
  4. Tackle policies that result in major structural inequities that lead to health disparities.
  5. Expand access to paid leave and affordable child care to support the critical role of caregiving.

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