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21.03.2024
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What Is “Pregnancy Brain”?

Sophia McCarthy

When listening to friends and family discussing their pregnancies, you may have heard them jokingly refer to their “pregnancy brain” when they locked their keys into the car or completely blanked on a sibling’s name. Maybe you’ve noticed yourself becoming strangely forgetful, distracted or generally foggy-brained during your pregnancy. If so, you’ll be glad to know that you’re not imagining it!

 

WHAT IS PREGNANCY BRAIN?

Pregnancy brain or ‘momnesia’ are terms used to describe feelings of spaciness, bouts of forgetfulness, memory lapses, brain fog, and an overall inability to concentrate during pregnancy. It’s an overwhelmingly common side affect of pregnancy; according to the American Psychological Association (APA), 50 to 80 percent of pregnant women report memory and thinking problems. Pregnancy Brain can happen at any stage during your pregnancy, or you may not experience it at all!

 

 

WHAT CAUSES PREGNANCY BRAIN?

While there has been varied research on what causes pregnancy brain, a lot of the results point towards theories of brain plasticity (otherwise known as neuroplasticity). Neuroplasticity is the ability for neural pathways in your brain to change and adapt in response to various stimuli, such as life events, habit or even hormonal changes. A study in The Archive of Women’s Health looked at how pregnancy can trigger neuroplastic changes, and the results were fascinating!

 

…it was recently found that first-time mothers undergo a symmetrical pattern of extensive gray matter (GM) volume reductions across pregnancy, primarily affecting the anterior and posterior cortical midline and specific sections of the bilateral lateral prefrontal and temporal cortex, which last for at least 2 years postpartum…

 

Basically, what they’re saying, is that research has shown that pregnancy could lead to reduced gray matter (the tissue in your brain). While these findings are interesting and can be very validating for anyone experiencing the symptoms of pregnancy brain, it’s also important to acknowledge that many pregnant women face stigma in their personal and professional lives due to the media portrayal of pregnancy brain, and feel that they need to over-perform to disprove other’s perception of their cognitive ability. For this reason, it’s best not to playfully tease or dismiss a pregnant person’s genuine frustration as “pregnancy brain”.

It’s also important to note that many other factors can cause pregnancy brain, including hormonal shifts, sleep issues and stress. Hormones in particular can play a role in forgetfulness or brain fog:

Studies have shown that hormonal changes affect cognitive function. Some studies of pregnant women have shown that fluctuations of progesterone and estrogen can affect memory and attention. The hippocampus, the part of your brain primarily related to memory, is particularly sensitive to changes in sexual reproductive hormones. (Clearblue.com)

 

HOW TO COPE WITH PREGNANCY BRAIN

If you feel that you are struggling to focus during your pregnancy, know that you are not alone. Your body and brain are dealing with a lot all at once, so it’s perfectly understandable that you don’t feel as sharp as you normally would.

  • Prioritize rest: Don’t be afraid to politely say no to people if you’re feeling wrung out.
  • Make lists: Smartphones have very useful reminders apps that will notify you of little things that could easily slip your mind.
  • Reach out: Having a good support system is key; are there friends or family who have gone through the same thing?
  • Let it go: Don’t beat yourself up if something slips your mind, you’re literally growing a human being!

 

As always, if you have any other questions that we didn’t cover here, please feel free to get in touch at info@theultrasoundsuite.ie

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING

Clearblue: What is “pregnancy brain,” and what can you do about it?

The Bump: Is Pregnancy Brain Real?

 

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