Call it pregnancy brain, mommy brain, pregnesia, or momnesia. Whatever you fancy, each of these labels refers to more or less the same “condition”. And what is it? Pregnancy brain refers to a somewhat intangible condition through pregnancy during which an expectant (or new) mom feels she exists in a bit of a brain fog. It's like climbing to the top of the stairs only to forget what the purpose of going upstairs was, but having this happen on a regular basis.
It tends to get worse as pregnancy endures and often lasts into the postpartum phase as well. Some theories suggest it isn’t a real thing at all but is rather perpetuated by the expectation among pregnant women that they will experience it. Well, we can nip that theory in the bud right there. Pregnant women can be hard on themselves, but pregnancy brain does exist!
There are several theories behind pregnancy brain. Each of them holds water but the truth is that it is likely a combination of factors that leads to this hallmark of pregnancy. Furthermore, there are several symptoms of pregnancy brain, which pregnant women may experience all or none of. Believe it or not, there is likely good reason pregnancy brain exists!
It’s unfortunate, in a sense, that the “cutesy” labels associated with this condition marginalize it when it is, in fact, something pregnant women have a hard time with. But stay tuned. In this article, we will help demystify pregnancy brain by discussing what it is, theories about its cause, and some strategies to cope.
15 It IS Real
There are several reasons why pregnancy brain is considered a real phenomenon. Certainly, if we relied on anecdotal evidence from women who are going through it or have been through it, it’s undeniable. They feel it and so do others around them. Both pregnancy and the postnatal period indisputably bring about a plethora of physical changes, so it absolutely stands to reason that they bring about mental changes as well.
To explore this, studies have been conducted to examine whether the brain is altered during pregnancy. The results demonstrate that pregnancy can, in fact, change the brain permanently and the way it reacts to hormones. Further, there is a mountain of evidence to suggest that there is a good reason beyond brain changes to explain why many a pregnant woman doesn’t feel as mentally sharp as she did before pregnancy.
First, we will discuss pregnancy brain symptoms and then get into the varying theories behind the condition.
14 Surging Hormones Are A Cause
Of course, hormones are at least partially to blame for mommy brain. High levels of estrogen and progesterone present during pregnancy have a weighty impact on the brain. Because these hormones gradually peak towards the end of pregnancy, pregnancy brain only gets worse as the pregnancy progresses.
These hormones are known to have a direct impact on the brain’s neurons. Further, when a woman delivers, she’ll experience a huge surge of oxytocin, responsible for making the uterus contract and triggering the body to produce milk, and oxytocin also affects the brain.
Of course, these hormones are critical for the baby’s development, but some theories suggest they are critical for getting mom into the mom zone, too. It has been suggested that they help to prepare expectant moms for the roller coaster ride of motherhood. While hormones can make mom less attuned to some things, they predispose her to be more attuned to her newborn. This can help to explain why mom wakes as soon as baby gurgles while dad snoozes away.
13 It Lasts Beyond Pregnancy
While pregnancy brain will be at its worst right before the due date, the symptoms that go along with it won’t subside right away. After birth, hormone levels subside, but this is just about the time sleep deprivation ramps up. It seems unfair but we are afraid it’s true; pregnancy brain turns to mommy brain once the baby is born.
The good news is that a mom will eventually begin to feel more like herself again. Pregnancy and mommy brain are thought to be temporary although, for lots of reasons, a mom’s faculties may never be quite the same again but the symptoms won’t be as severe.
Some theories suggest that the fogginess associated with pregnancy brain persists for a few months postpartum, while others suggest it can last for up to a year. The good news is there are some strategies that can help you cope, which we discuss further along in this article.
12 It Causes Forgetfulness
We can thank this symptom of pregnancy brain for the alternate terms momnesia and pregnesia; that’s because the biggest component of pregnancy brain is the forgetfulness. Some women walk into a room only to forget why they went in. Others can’t recall why they drove to the grocery store, and still, others forget that they put the kettle on.
There is a scientific cause for forgetfulness during pregnancy and it’s based on the interaction between hormones and the hippocampus. The higher the level of hormones in the body, the more likely the hippocampus is to be affected and that's remarkable because the hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for memory.
As indicated earlier, because hormones increase throughout pregnancy, forgetfulness will be at an all-time high, especially late in pregnancy. So if it feels like it just happened all of a sudden, this is why.
11 It Causes Clumsiness
Clumsiness during pregnancy is another reality for expectant moms. The combination of forgetting why she came in the room and then tripping on her way out can make a woman seem like a real scatterbrain! This can be embarrassing, too. Luckily, most witnesses will be forgiving.
There are a few reasons that pregnancy leads to clumsiness. First, a burgeoning bump can throw off a woman’s center of gravity. Secondly, hormones have a tendency to loosen joints and ligaments, which means the pregnant body is literally working against poor moms. Thirdly, being sleep deprived certainly doesn’t do anyone any favors in the gracefulness department.
Naturally, it’s very important to be extra careful during pregnancy. Hold handrails when navigating stairs, tread extra carefully on smooth floors and icy surfaces, and grasp objects with two hands.
10 Mom's Changing Priorities Are A Cause
Another theory behind mommy brain is that an expectant mom’s priorities change. She is now concerning herself with growing an entire human being. As a result, she is paying attention to things like diet, exercise, medical appointments, getting the nursery ready, and generally preparing for impending motherhood.
In other words, during pregnancy, an expectant mom’s mind is filled with a thousand things--almost all of them different than before she was pregnant. We can’t blame her for forgetting where she put her keys, can we?
This theory doesn’t suggest that the capacity or function of the brain is altered in any way; it's just that what mom needs to--and wants to--attend to is altered. If the brain is filled with all things baby, there won’t be room to focus on other things that used to be priorities--hence that scatterbrained feeling some women associate with pregnancy.
9 700 Hours of Lost Sleep Are A Cause
Naturally, nobody feels as mentally acute as they normally do when they are sleep deprived. Pregnancy can, of course, bring about sleep challenges given that hormones can mess with sleep. Plus, even if pregnancy is as perfect as it can be, sleep won’t come easily. It’s really tough to figure out how to sleep with a bowling ball, especially when it’s attached.
And once the baby arrives, cue extreme sleep deprivation for parents and especially mom. This is, of course, directly associated with the fact that newborn babies need to eat through the night and often. One study indicated that women accumulate a whopping 700 hours of missed sleep in the first year after having a baby; that’s almost two hours of sleep per night! Yikes. No wonder we aren’t as sharp as normal.
8 Don’t Be Too Quick To Blame
Everyone is forgetful and clumsy some of the time. Expectant women have an expectation that they will experience some degree of pregnancy brain, but just because it exists doesn’t mean everything that happens is a result of it. While we wholeheartedly believe pregnancy brain exists, some theories suggest that it is a myth perpetuated by the pregnancy community.
The point is, every time an expectant mom forgets something, it doesn’t mean it’s because she’s pregnant. If we are too quick to blame, it can get some women down, especially if it’s early during pregnancy.
Now, of course, there may come a point when pregnancy brain is undeniable, but until then, don’t assume the worst. If keys are misplaced, it could be for a host of reasons. That said, trying some of the suggestions outlined here can definitely minimize the impacts of pregnancy brain.
7 Mommy Brain Is Part Of Evolution
One theory around mommy brain is that it is part evolutionary. This makes sense when you consider the nuts and bolts of it. If a hallmark of pregnancy brain is forgetting about things that aren’t associated with being a mom or caring for a baby, then this phenomenon may actually help women focus fully on where their attention needs to be going forward.
When we consider it this way, it stands to reason that there could be an evolutionary component to mommy brain. Motherhood requires a great deal of multitasking but old priorities will have to fall by the wayside in order to make room for new ones. Mommy brain may actually be nature’s way of helping moms be even better moms.
Causes aside, now we will outline some strategies to help cope with pregnancy and mommy brain.
6 Reminders, Reminders And More Reminders
Because pregnancy brain can cause some severe memory loss which makes women feel like they're losing their minds. Given that forgetfulness is the BIGGEST offender in the pregnancy brain drain, there are some simple strategies that can help expectant moms overcome it.
The first involves leaving reminders around for things one intends/needs to do. This means making lists, leaving voicemails for yourself, sticking Post-it notes around the house, and asking loved ones to help with reminders. Truth-be-told, this will help a great deal with keeping organized and keeping sane.
If it seems simple, that's because it is. The best strategy is to create a reminder as soon as something is planned or at the realization that something needs doing. For doctor’s appointments, work commitments, social engagements, et cetera, keeping track in these simple ways can help accommodate for a slightly sluggish brain.
5 Get Enough Zzzzzz's
Of course, getting enough sleep sounds like a no-brainer, and is likely one piece of advice pregnant women will hear from oodles of sources for oodles of reasons. Trust us, this reason is real. Being well-rested will definitely help combat pregnancy brain.
Pregnancy absolutely zaps the energy out of women but the brain needs that energy to work efficiently and stay focused. The best way to naturally restore depleted energy reserves is to get some good quality sleep.
Sleep deprivation can also lead to irritability, mood swings, depression, anxiety, and increased stress, so there are even more reasons to get enough sleep. The interaction of all of these things will make pregnancy brain even worse. Have a warm bath, curl up with a good book, clear the mind, and catch some rest whenever you can.
4 Eat Well
While it’s a complete cliché that pregnant women are eating for two, it is 100 percent imperative that they eat a well-balanced and rich diet for their own well-being and for that of their unborn baby. But, a healthy and complete diet can also help to combat pregnancy brain drain.
We know for certain there are foods that help with mental acuity, and there is ample reason to make these foods a part of one’s diet during pregnancy. A food rich in essential fatty acids like fish is one great example. Other examples include foods rich in iron and antioxidants.
Furthermore, unborn babies begin to taste different flavors between 13-15 weeks gestation via the amniotic fluid. Eating a wide range of flavorful and healthy foods is also something unborn babies enjoy while still in utero.
3 Ask For Help
Expectant moms should not be afraid to ask for help. Spouses, close friends, and family members are eager to get involved in the pregnancy experience with their loved ones. There is likely a community of helpers at a pregnant woman’s disposal to help her navigate these waters.
If forgetfulness is getting someone down, they should simply ask for help. Get hubby to issue reminders for certain tasks. Or better yet, simply get him to take over. Future grandparents are also great helpers. They could be tasked with getting other children to appointments or after-school activities or even chauffeuring mom to her own doctor’s appointments.
Of course, there are certain activities pregnant women should eliminate from their lives, especially if clumsiness becomes a real factor. For example, get help to set up the nursery. And definitely don’t even think of climbing a ladder.
2 Laugh About It
The reality of pregnancy brain is that many outsiders find it cute and endearing. People like to blame expectant moms’ ditzy moments on pregnancy or mommy brain, whether it’s real or not. If an expectant mom can find the humor in it, then we say go for it. As we know, it will pass, so there's no harm in stressing heavily about temporary changes.
So, when you find your car keys in the freezer, forgot why you went to the grocery store, or lost track of a lunch date, try to laugh it off without automatically assuming it’s going to happen again. Plus, we know that laughter is a good stress reliever. In fact, nothing gets rid of stress like humor. So, for expectant moms, being able to laugh at oneself in a healthy fashion is good for more reasons than one.
1 It Is All Worth It
The elation felt at the sight of that positive pregnancy test is one that is tough to describe. While pregnancy will have its ups and downs, the happiness and excitement of being pregnant and the anticipation of the arrival of that bundle of joy are unparalleled.
Pregnancy brain is one side effect of pregnancy that most women will experience, but without a doubt, it beats some of the other less glamorous parts of pregnancy. The best advice we can give is to adopt some of the coping strategies we outlined here, understand it will pass, and stay positive. If pregnancy brain is getting you down, just know that it will all be worth it.
Plus, if anyone claims that pregnancy brain doesn't exist, the proof is in this article. Simply pass it on and tell them to be quiet.