What is Pregnancy Brain and Is It Real?


Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  phalinn

Did your pregnant partner just put her keys in the freezer and some ice in her purse? If this was not a normal occurrence prior to conception, you can rest assured that she’s probably not losing her mind. It is more likely that she is suffering from what is cleverly called momnesia, baby brain, mommy brain, pregnancy fog, or most commonly, pregnancy brain.  Many women complain of forgetfulness and feelings of distraction during pregnancy, so much so that pregnancy brain has become a conventional wisdom among expectant mothers. It is the focus of countless online forums, pregnancy and baby books, scientific studies, and now, even the weasel’s ponderings. But is pregnancy brain real? Or it is just everyday memory lapses being blown out of proportion?

The Science Behind Pregnancy Brain

Despite the prevalence of pregnancy brain in popular culture, scientific and medical research on the existence of pregnancy brain is limited and the evidence is conflicting. Some studies have reported evidence of memory deficits during pregnancy while others, such as the research conducted at the University of Australia, conclude that the capacity of the brain is unaltered in pregnancy. Other research has shown that pregnant women do just as well in cognitive tests as women who aren’t pregnant, which might serve as evidence to the contrary of the pregnancy brain theory. Still, its existence remains a source of debate.

Science versus Conventional Wisdom

All this being said, many pregnant women insist that their short-term memory and ability to concentrate just aren’t what they were before pregnancy.  The causality of pregnancy brain syndrome is the question. If we were to simply look to the experiential evidence of pregnant women, the existence of pregnancy brain would be almost unquestionable. Even without consistent medical evidence,  the possibility of pregnancy brain does seem to make some intuitive sense. The hormonal changes (that is, fifteen to forty times more progesterone and estrogen!) affect the body in all sorts of ways, including neurons in the brain.

Furthermore, it is commonly known that it is normal to experience changes in cognitive ability whether in the form of forgetfulness or feeling careless when stressed or short on sleep. It is also commonly accepted that of the many symptoms of pregnancy, fatigue and even stress can be among them. To top it off, some even note that a set of changing priorities and a focus on the new baby might only exacerbate the feelings of pregnancy brain.

Nevertheless, it is clear that pregnancy causes incredible changes in the brain and body, many of which may help mothers better adapt to motherhood and the care-giving required for the infant after birth. So while feelings pregnancy brain (whether proven of not) may be one symptom of pregnancy, it’s a small price to pay for all the good and valuable changes.

Pregnancy brain or not, pregnancy may change a woman’s brain permanently. Click here to read more. And it may not be all bad. While women and conventional wisdom point to forgetfulness, animal research is full of evidence of cognitive improvements during and after pregnancy.


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