Pregnancy Brain: Is it a Myth?
Are you forgetting something? If you’re pregnant, the answer is likely yes.
According to Babycenter.com, as many as 80% of expecting mothers report having memory lapses or trouble focusing. The feeling of your brain being in a haze and your memory becoming foggy is often referred to as “pregnancy brain.” But is pregnancy brain even real? Is it all in your head?
In this post, we will outline what pregnancy brain is, if it’s a myth and what you can do about it.
What Is Pregnancy Brain?
When you become pregnant, you may begin to feel “foggy” and like your memory isn’t as good as it used to be. This is called “pregnancy brain” or “momnesia.”
Even if you’re someone who always remembers where you park your car, you may begin questioning which parking lot you even drove into. So, when does pregnancy brain start? You may begin feeling a brain fog the second month and it may fade in and out throughout your pregnancy journey.
Examples of pregnancy brain:
- Walking into a room and forgetting why you went in there
- Forgetting where you left your keys or wallet
- Missing appointments
Pregnancy Brain: Myth or Reality?
So, is pregnancy brain a myth or reality? Likely a little bit of both but researchers can’t agree. Here’s the rundown: It’s true that some expecting women don’t feel the same mentally, but science doesn’t show that pregnancy actually changes the brain.
Researchers at Brigham Young University found that a pregnant woman’s absent-mindedness is all in her head. In the study, women in their third trimester and women with babies 3 to 6 months old were asked to take a test that measured brain function: Memory, thinking, organizational and spatial skills. These women performed as well as women who never gave birth. However, when asked to score themselves on their own memory, they scored themselves much lower.
Some experts’ beliefs echo this finding. Dr. Ros Crawley of Sunderland University suggested that “pregnancy brain” was caused by negative mood swings. Another possibility is that women culturally expect their memory to be impaired, causing them to notice forgetfulness more and blame it on their pregnancy.
It’s worth noting that other researchers disagree. Some research shows that there are deficits in memory during pregnancy. A 2008 study compared 412 pregnant women, 272 mothers and 386 non-pregnant females. Pregnant women experienced the most trouble with challenging memory tasks. Memory tasks that were well-practiced, such as remembering a friend’s phone number, were unaffected. However, new tasks, such as remembering a new name, new phone number or recalling information may be tougher for pregnant women.
A team of British researchers found that in a study of 10 pregnant women, their brains were smaller during pregnancy than after delivery. Although the changes weren’t big, they were measurable and may be caused by hormonal changes. In another study of 19 highly educated pregnant woman, researchers found that their short-term memory, ability to concentrate and ability to learn and retain new information was decreased.
The problem is that even though researchers have evidence that “pregnancy brain” exists, they cannot pinpoint the reason it physiologically occurs. For example, the reason for a “foggy” brain isn’t necessarily that your brain is changing, it may be due to other pregnancy symptoms such as changing hormones. More research needs to be done to discover how real pregnancy brain actually is.
Whether or not pregnancy changes how your brain functions is still up for debate. But the good news is that your brain doesn’t permanently change and will likely go back to normal after you’ve had your baby and have gotten enough sleep.
What Causes Pregnancy Brain
Now that you understand your brain hasn’t changed, what’s causing that “foggy” feeling? There could be a few reasons:
It’s likely that you’re educating yourself about the baby, buying supplies, preparing for a baby shower and on top of that, you have your regular daily to-do list. It’s easy to forget things when you’re busy and have a lot to remember.
Another possibility is that your brain is re-prioritizing. Before, maybe the most important aspects of your life were your career and relationship, but these days it’s about having a baby. Instead of remembering information about other areas of your life, your brain understands it’s more important to save that memory for baby-related things.
Because you’re so busy and because your life is changing, you may feel a great deal of stress, which can also affect memory.
No one’s memory is the same when they are tired, especially pregnant women. When you’re expecting, you’re tired because of your changing hormones, your packed schedule and the fact that some nights you can’t even get comfortable enough to sleep.
There is 15 to 40 times more progesterone and estrogen in your brain when you’re expecting, according to Dr. Louann Brizendine, director of the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic at the University of California. These two hormones affect many neurons in the brain.
According to a British study, hormones may also interfere with spatial memory, causing you to forget where you put your keys or where you left your purse.
Having a foggy brain may be an annoying pregnancy symptom — but some experts believe that it’s actually quite useful in terms of evolution. Some have theorized that a bad memory is helpful during pregnancy because it forces women to remember and focus on caring for their baby. For example, instead of wasting precious memory space on mundane tasks, you’re thinking about how to best care for a newborn.
How to Stop Foggy Brain During Pregnancy
There’s no easy fix to pregnancy brain, but there are a few changes you can make that may reduce the mental fog.
Realize that you’re going through the biggest change of your life, so you have less energy to focus elsewhere. Instead of trying to do it all and getting down on yourself for being forgetful, realize that your body is already doing a lot of work. Try to simplify other areas of your life instead:
- Ask your partner for more help around the house.
- If family or friends offer help, gladly accept. If they ask what they can do to make pregnancy easier, kindly tell them.
- If your schedule is jam-packed, cut out the least important activities.
- Keep social outings to a minimum if it’s draining your energy.
Keep a List
If you’re finding yourself forgetting where you put things or forgetting what you need to do, start making lists. With smartphones, you don’t need to carry around a piece of paper and pen anymore. You can simply write memos in a text to yourself or on your phone’s notepad. If you want to get really serious about lists, consider downloading an app such as Wunderlist or Remember The Milk.
You can make your life easier by making lists for:
- Your daily to-do list
- Your appointments
- What you need at the store
- Questions you need to ask your doctor or midwife
- What you need to add to your baby registry
- Things you need to Google or research before the baby arrives
- What supplements you need to take every day
- What parking lot your parked in
As we’ve mentioned, fatigue can cause that foggy pregnancy brain, so getting more sleep just may improve your memory. Unfortunately, getting sleep during pregnancy can be difficult. We’ve put together a full guide on how to get your best sleep while pregnant.
Set a Spot
If your number one problem is forgetting where you put things, give each important item a home. For example, put your keys in the same spot as soon as you enter the door and always hang your purse in the same location. That way, you will always know where your belongings are.
Eat Brain-Boosting Foods
Put down the sugary foods you’re craving and take a bite out of something that will help improve your memory! Although pregnancy doesn’t permanently change the way your brain functions, eating healthy food is a proactive step. Here are some foods that could help improve your memory:
- Eggs— The amino acid choline is essential in helping develop memory. One of the best sources is egg yolks.
- Broccoli— Broccoli is packed with choline, vitamin K and vitamin C, making the vegetable great for your brain and body!
- Extra virgin olive oil— A 2017 study concluded that EVOO helps to protect against memory loss, helps us learn and reduces conditions associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Although the study was conducted on mice, researchers found that the rodents who consumed EVOO had better learning abilities and working and spatial memory.
- Fish— Fish high in Omega-3, such as salmon, can help improve brain function and prevent memory loss. Studies have shown that people who frequently eat fish experience a slower decline in cognitive function as they age.
Are you experiencing a foggy pregnancy brain? Comment below what you’re having trouble remembering! If you have pregnant friends, be sure to share this post with them, too!
P.S. Instead of focusing on the negative things about pregnancy, such as “pregnancy brain,” try focusing on the positive, such as your baby’s beating heart. Our fetal dopplers are at-home devices that allow you to hear your baby’s heartbeat through headphones. Pretty amazing, right?
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