Pregnancy brain typically refers to lapses in attention and memory. About 80 percent of new mothers report difficulties remembering things that once came naturally, and although not all studies support this, the weight of the evidence shows that during pregnancy, women exhibit measurable declines in important cognitive skills.
Pregnant women are also better at recognizing fear, anger, and disgust. This enhanced ability to identify and discriminate among emotions may help mothers to ensure their infants’ survival. Research from my laboratory has shown that the hormone exposures in pregnancy—for example, high levels of estrogens and oxytocin—are associated with heightened maternal responsiveness and sensitivity to the environment and infants’ needs.
“Relax, pregnancy does not change your brain. But it may affect how mentally sharp you feel.”
Pregnancy Brain a Myth or a Reality?
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), there’s no scientific research that proves you get flakey during pregnancy. But even if “pregnancy brain” is just a myth, there are still tons of women who complain of feeling more forgetful or spaced out during their pregnancy.
Pregnancy does not change a woman’s brain even though some women don’t feel as sharp as usual when they’re pregnant.
What Causes “Momnesia?”
If you’re experiencing memory lapses or periods of forgetfulness, chances are your fellow moms-to-be can relate. So what’s to blame? Hormonal changes, lack of sleep, and/or the distractions of spending a lot of time thinking (and stressing) about the baby are the likely causes. Surging hormone levels and new priorities may help explain why pregnancy brain happens.
What Pregnancy Brain Feels Like
Pregnancy brain is “the feeling of walking into a room, going after something, and not remembering what you went for about five to 10 times a day. Many pregnant women and new moms spend a lot of time thinking about the changes that having a baby will bring or taking care of their newborn. As a result, their short-term memory may suffer.
How to Help Your Memory
After the baby arrives, sleep deprivation is clearly a contributing factor. Brizendine says, “Women accumulate up to 700 hours of sleep debt in the first year after having a baby and that causes the brain not to be at its best for things other than caring for the baby.”
Save your sanity by writing things down and making lists, along with snacking regularly and getting lots of rest. Also, be sure to take your prenatal vitamins —they contain ingredients that help boost mental sharpness. Don’t worry, it’s annoying, but it isn’t permanent.
Pregnancy primes the brain for dramatic neuroplasticity, which is further stimulated by delivery, lactation and mother-child interactions. Some evolutionary biologists have argued that the development of maternal behaviors is the primary force shaping the evolution of the mammalian brain. Of interest, these alterations may become more pronounced with each successive pregnancy and persist throughout a mother’s lifespan. But helpful adaptations are rarely achieved without an associated cost—and pregnancy brain may reflect just such a cost.
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