Pregnancy Brain? Real? A myth? Or is it just the brain working in a different way?

Pregnancy Brain? Real?  A myth?  Or is it just the brain working in a different way? 


Over the last 40 years of looking after pregnant women, I have often been bombarded by stories of poor memory, absentmindedness and lack of focus. It’s hard to tell whether these observations are real or just part of generally accepted story that pregnancy, in some way affects recall and cognitive function, and interferes with the ability of pregnant women to perform normal everyday tasks. Is it that pregnant women, in some way expect to behave differently when they are pregnant, and are just following an expected trend? Could it be that they are simply more sensitive to minor changes in memory, and feel more likely to report any problems, than they would in their non-pregnant state?

Sadly, a study of the actual scientific data reveals very little hard evidence to support these views, and good quality data is lacking. Most studies have been almost anecdotal with small numbers and few have looked at the way the brain works before, during and after pregnancy in a consistent and methodical way.  Any study would need to take into account the affect of other factors , that are well known to affect memory, and ability to perform simple everyday tasks. For instance, lack of sleep, anxiety, stress and depression, conditions that are frequently present in pregnancy.

The other major change that occurs in pregnancy, is the enormous surge in the pregnancy hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, both of which can, in some women produce significant changes in the way the brain works.

So you can see why it is hard to get to the real truth of the matter.

Nevertheless, many, but not all of the studies done over the last 20-30 years appear to show that at least half of pregnant women appear to show some loss of simple recall. These changes, when observed, seem to last until several weeks after delivery.

However , it is not as simple as that.  More recent work seems to suggest that the pregnant brain has some enhanced memory functions when compared to the non pregnant organ.  It appears that when pregnant women have an increased ability to recognise changes in facial expression and the environment that may, in some way be threatening or possibly harmful.  In other words the pregnant women has heightened powers of anticipating any possible hazard or hostility to her or her newborn.  An enhanced nesting or protective role perhaps? Could it be that the baby, by creating large surges of hormones, is in some way programming the the mother to be even more perceptive and protective during this important phase of their shared existence.

So maybe a little occasional memory loss may be a reasonable price to pay for Mummy looking after you even more carefully.

So its not that the brain turns to mush, it just works differently.