Pregnancy brain exists. Here’s what we know about it.
Pregnancy brings a lot of changes to a woman’s body. There are hormones flooding all over the place and internal resources being redirected to make a new life, not to mention the occasional bout of morning sickness.
But there’s another thing that women sometimes report with their pregnancy: a tendency to forget.
This phenomenon has been given the nickname of “pregnancy brain”, and for the longest time, it was thought to be a myth--just women making up excuses for leaving the keys in the car or forgetting they left the stove on and burned the house down. But pregnancy brain is very real according to multiple studies on the subject, and women should be warned about it beforehand.
The first question researchers wanted to ask was: “Does pregnancy brain exist?” The answer is yes, according to a 1991 study published in PubMed (it may have been published in other journals back in the ‘90s, but we’ll mention the publically accessible study instead). A whopping "82% reported experiencing cognitive changes during pregnancy and postpartum,” said the study, “including difficulty in concentration, absent-mindedness and short-term memory loss."
The study could only speculate on what caused these changes in cognitive ability. Were pregnant women all taking some kind of supplement that made them forget, or was something else going on?
There was no clear answer to this question until a 2016 study was published in the journal, Nature. Researchers hooked a bunch of women up to an MRI and found that their grey matter underwent physical changes during pregnancy and remained altered for up to two years afterward.
So now we’ve got definitive proof that the brain changes during pregnancy. Unfortunately, we still don’t know why. It’s speculated that the brain becomes more plastic during pregnancy in order to better assist the soon-to-be child, making new neurological pathways for the new responsibilities that come with motherhood.
We also don’t know for certain why memory seems to be affected at this time as well. It could be that rewiring the brain has some negative consequences and short-term memory loss is just one of them. It could also just be that the additional stress of pregnancy interrupts normal memory recording.
Or it could just be that pregnancy interrupts the normal flow of day-to-day life, making it harder to keep track of things.
Whatever the reason, pregnancy brain definitely exists, and new moms should definitely take note. Maybe invest in a day planner with a to-do list. Or a label maker. Or both.