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What Is Pregnancy Brain And When Does It Start?

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What Is Pregnancy Brain And When Does It Start?

Pregnancy brain refers to forgetfulness and memory troubles that some expecting mothers experience during pregnancy. Researchers think the pregnancy brain may be associated with hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, stress, or brain modifications during pregnancy. However, the research is unclear whether the pregnant brain exists or affects every expecting mom. Pregnant women who do notice it generally experience minor, manageable forgetfulness.

Do you often forget things, like misplacing your keys almost every time you leave home?

If you are pregnant, you might blame occasional memory lapses on the pregnant brain. And research suggests you may have the right cause: Forgetfulness during pregnancy appears to be a natural phenomenon. Here's why you might experience pregnancy with brain fog - and how to cope.

What is a pregnancy brain?

The pregnancy brain (sometimes referred to as "momnesia" or "baby brain") refers to the cognitive struggles and mind fog that some women say they experience during pregnancy and sometimes after giving birth. It involves symptoms such as:

  • Memory issues
  • Forgetfulness
  • Poor attention
  • Absentmindedness
  • Clumsiness
  • Disorientation
  • Learning problems
  • Trouble recalling words and names
a pregnant woman trying to remember

When does the pregnancy brain begin?

While there is no medical consensus on when pregnancy brain starts, research and anecdotal tales from moms suggest that pregnancy brain is worst in the third trimmest. Some studies have found that memory loss and other cognitive problems may begin as early as the first trimester of pregnancy.

 Is pregnancy brain real?

Plenty of expectant moms say that pregnancy brain is real. And some studies suggest that up to eighty-one percent of pregnant women report having memory lapses or focus issues. However, the general scientific evidence is mixed.

Some research shows pregnant women have significantly worse memory and cognitive function than those who are not pregnant, especially in the third trimester. Other research shows that pregnant women perform just as well on cognitive tests as women who are not pregnant.

A 2018 review of 20 studies on pregnancy brain found that compared to non-pregnant women, pregnant women performed worse on memory and executive function tests – that is, cognitive function related to organizing tasks, remembering details, managing time, and problem-solving.

While the causes of pregnancy brain fog are unclear, there are several theories:

1. Hormones: 

Pregnancy sends a flood of fluctuating hormones throughout your body. This triggers significant physiological changes and can also affect the brain and memory.

2. Trouble sleeping: 

More than half of women report insomnia and other sleep issues during pregnancy. A constant lack of sleep has been shown to affect cognitive functions and memory.

3. Stress and anxiety: 

It makes intuitive sense that you may be distracted by fear or excitement about this new journey and the significant lifestyle changes it will bring, which may interfere with your ability to concentrate and remember things.

4. Changes in brain structure: 

A few small studies suggest that women experience changes in their brain structure during pregnancy. These changes may last for at least six years after giving birth. Researchers theorize that the body is eliminating neural networks. It does not need to make the brain more efficient and specialized for motherhood, which may help women bond with and respond to their babies. They further speculate that changes in brain structure might be related to impaired memory.

a woman in clouds

Keep in mind 

The research is unclear whether the pregnant brain exists or affects every expecting mom. Pregnant women who do notice it generally experience minor, manageable forgetfulness. Having a pregnancy brain doesn't mean you are not as intelligent and successful as ever.

How to cope with pregnancy brain

1. Keep a daily calendar: 

Use the calendar app on your phone or carry a small planner.

2. Give essential items a "home": 

Store things you use frequently, such as keys, in the same place. Or, invest in some high-tech trackers for your keys and wallet.

3. Set alarms and notifications: 

Schedule reminders for important meetings or tasks on your phone or computer.

4. Take photos: 

If you park your car in a large or crowded lot, snap a picture of the location with your smartphone. You can also use photos to save visual notes of things like slides at a meeting, event flyers, business cards, and magazine articles.

5. Use a note-taking app: 

Use an app on your phone to keep track of important information.

6. Try mnemonic devices: 

When you meet someone new, think of an association that will help you remember the person's name. For instance, if you meet someone named Lily, imagine her holding a bouquet of lilies.

7. Carry a notebook: 

Write down everything in a small notebook. It doesn't need to be fancy - just having everything in one place makes it easier to refresh your memory.

8. Try to get good sleep: 

It can be tough to sleep well during pregnancy, but getting enough sleep will refresh your memory and help you stay alert mentally.

9. Exercise: 

Working out regularly (with your healthcare provider's approval) not only keeps you healthy during pregnancy but can also sharpen your memory and help you sleep better at night, increasing your alertness during the day.

 10. Ask for assistance: 

Ask your partner, family, or friends to pitch in with chores, errands, and childcare. A lightened load means less stress, which can affect your ability to remember things.

11. Simplify: 

Take a break from multitasking and prioritize what is essential and what is not. Save your energy for things that are truly significant to you.

A little forgetfulness during pregnancy is normal. However, suppose you're having a lot of trouble thinking or concentrating. In that case, if you're feeling sad most of the day or notice a lack of interest or pleasure in things you usually enjoy, you may suffer from pregnancy depression.

Whenever you're feeling unusually sad or overwhelmed, speak to your doctor or midwife for assistance.

a pregnant woman holding heart at her belly

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