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Pamper Your Brain

My world shrank to just about the size of a receiving blanket after my son, Henry, was born. His digestive system, his wardrobe, his colic, the delicious smell of his head  -- and my own quest for sleep  -- were all my shell-shocked postpartum brain had room for. And it represented a pretty abrupt mental shift for someone used to reading the daily newspaper that day, seeing every first-run movie, and spending her days engaged in stimulating conversation with people who could actually talk back. I loved being a mom, but I never expected that my mind would soon feel as mushy as my midriff.

More than your manicure and midsection tend to be neglected after you have kids. Many a mom mourns the days when she could focus on the new best-seller, a favorite hobby, or local politics. "The smarter my kids get, the dumber I feel," a mother of three once told me. One can sing only so many lullabies before beginning to hum, "Where have all my brain cells gone?"

"We give up on what's important to us when we become parents because it's so hard to find the time and energy, and it's easier to sacrifice ourselves than take a stand for what we enjoy," says Jennifer Louden, author of The Woman's Comfort Guide.

The solution? Keeping your head nourished with these 12 steps:

1. Make the commitment. At first, you may not feel like doing much of anything beyond baby tasks, and there's good reason for that. Mastering strange new skills like breastfeeding, diapering, and gently wrestling tiny floppy arms into kimono shirts takes all the concentration you can muster in the early weeks, especially when it's exacerbated by sleep deprivation and the physical demands of recovery from the act of childbirth itself.

But it's worth making a pact with yourself to eventually start stimulating your intellect. Nourishing your mind can give you a sense of accomplishment that adds to well-being, and it ultimately helps make you a better mom. In contrast, research has demonstrated, stress and feeling disconnected from the world can contribute to postpartum depression, and even make the normal "baby blues" more severe.

Paula Spencer, a mom of four, is a contributing editor to Parenting.