Expecting mothers sometimes share that they tend to forget names and words. Forgetting your house keys in the car, struggling to recall if you’ve added salt in the curry, or standing in front of the refrigerator wondering what you needed to take out are a few common examples of what you may experience while pregnant. In fact, many women do.
Not all pregnant mothers experience the same level of brain fog. For some, it can be just a slightly compromised attention span, while for others, it can manifest as serious challenges in remembering details or recalling information. This phenomenon is called “pregnancy brain” or “momnesia.”
I often laugh when I remember what pregnancy brain did to me. While sitting in a maternity clinic, I was called by the clinic staff at least 3 times. It literally took me 5 minutes to register the call. Believe me, this brain fog is for real. I’ve experienced it, and there are many mothers who also report it.
The question arises if the brain really changes during pregnancy or this is just a myth. Are these symptoms only psychological, or is there some physiological basis to them? How can momnesia be managed?
If you’re wondering about all these things, read on to learn about the mysterious phenomenon called pregnancy brain.
What is pregnancy brain?
Pregnancy brain refers to forgetfulness and brain fog experienced by some women during pregnancy. It’s also called momnesia and baby brain.
Common symptoms of pregnancy brain include:
- Difficulty in remembering words and names
- Distractibility (being easily distracted)
- Inattentiveness (difficulty in focusing attention on something)
- Disorientation (inability to think with the usual level of mental clarity)
- Reading problems
- Reduced motor coordination
- Absentmindedness (reduced level of mental alertness)
Is pregnancy brain real?
The term pregnancy brain is used to explain the behavioral manifestations of reduced mental alertness, brain fog, and compromised memory function in pregnant mothers. Research indicates that women do experience reduced cognitive functioning and forgetfulness during pregnancy.
A meta-analysis suggests that up to 81% of women experience declined cognitive functioning during pregnancy. According to this study, the most frequently reported change in cognitive functioning is forgetfulness. Pregnancy brain also affects broader cognitive functions, for example, executive functioning and attentiveness. Pregnancy also affects the proficient use of language for conversation and remembering names.
When does pregnancy brain start?
You can start experiencing forgetfulness at any time during your pregnancy. It can begin as early as the 1st trimester and get more evident as your pregnancy advances.
What causes pregnancy brain?
It’s been said that pregnancy brain is a subjective decline in cognitive functioning because we primarily rely on the reported experiences of pregnant women. This forgetfulness is attributed to physiological changes in the body, psychological conditions, hormones, and brain structure.
- Sleep deprivation: Many women struggle with insomnia (sleep deprivation) during pregnancy. A high prevalence (42%) of sleep disturbances during pregnancy, especially in the 3rd trimester, has a negative impact on the psychological and physical wellbeing of expecting mothers. Lack of proper sleep not only leads to fatigue but also negatively affects concentration and mental alertness.
- Stress and anxiety: During pregnancy, a woman goes through drastic changes in her body. She is overwhelmed by body image issues, morning sickness, body aches, multitasking, competing responsibilities, a tiring routine, and the looming responsibilities of parenting a newborn. All of these can trigger stress and anxiety, which adversely affect mental alertness and can result in forgetfulness and reduced concentration.
- Hormonal changes: Pregnancy brings lots of changes in hormone levels. Researchers have noted that an increase in hormones like oxytocin is associated with behavioral changes during pregnancy. It indicates that changes in cognitive functioning and memory can be attributed to changes in different hormones.
- Neurotransmitters: Researchers have observed that decreased plasma neurotransmitter levels can cause loss of functional memory in healthy pregnant women.
- Changes in brain anatomy: Researchers have attempted to determine whether the brain actually changes anatomically during pregnancy. A study on the anatomy of the brain showed that pregnancy reduces gray matter volume in the regions controlling social cognition, and this reduction can continue for 2 years after pregnancy. Another study reported that pregnancy leads to anatomical changes in the brain’s reward system called the ventral striatum. These findings support the fact that the brain of a pregnant woman goes through changes that can alter mental clarity, emotions, and behavior.
How to manage pregnancy brain
Pregnancy is a life-changing experience. Going through a drastic physical transformation not only results in bodily symptoms like fatigue but also leads to behavioral and psychological changes. Variations in hormonal levels and changes in brain structure also contribute to experiencing pregnancy brain fog and forgetfulness.
These practical strategies can help you in managing your absentmindedness.
1. Be kind to yourself
You have to go easy on yourself. You might not be able to communicate that fluently during an official meeting or remember important appointments. Don’t let such slips frustrate you. Instead, keep your eyes on the beautiful prize you’ll be receiving at the end of this journey. Try to enjoy this bumpy ride because it is leading you to an amazing destination.
Be kind to yourself as this is a temporary thing. You’ll soon get your sharp and attentive brain back.
2. Eat balanced food
Your body needs good fuel, so make sure to eat a healthy, nutritious pregnancy diet. If you can’t eat large, proper meals, consume small frequent meals instead. Keeping your body nourished will help you in feeling stronger and less prone to anxiety or stress.
The following food groups are considered good for increasing concentration and focus, so try to increase your intake of:
- Green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, asparagus, kale, cabbage, etc.)
- Foods rich in omega-3 (fish, almonds, flax seeds, avocado, and walnuts)
- Berries (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, etc.)
- Moderate tea and coffee consumption might also be helpful as caffeine is reported to improve concentration levels.
After consulting your doctor, do light exercise regularly. Try to add daily walks and yoga to your schedule. Exercise helps in reducing stress and anxiety and improves mental alertness.
4. Get proper sleep
If you experience pregnancy-induced insomnia, consult your healthcare provider. Proper sleep helps in improving your focus and mental alertness.
5. Keep a diary or a planner
In order to avoid forgetting scheduled activities or plans, consider keeping a small diary or using a note-taking phone app. Taking notes will help you in staying organized and managing memory lapses.
You might note down small details, for example, the specific car parking area of a shopping mall to avoid forgetting where you parked your car.
6. Set reminders
Setting reminders can be a great help in keeping up with important appointments and dates. You might consider setting reminders for daily activities, such as your child’s school pick-up time or the time for checking up on a cake you’re baking.
7. Avoid multitasking
Multitasking can make focusing difficult. It can also interfere with memorizing details. To cope with your memory lapses, avoid multitasking and focus on 1 task at a time.
8. Keep your support circle
Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Having family and friends to assist with tasks can lighten your burden. Pregnancy comes with lots of physical and emotional stress. Your support circle can help you not feel overwhelmed.
9. Talk to other expecting mothers
Try to join groups of pregnant women or talk to expecting moms in your circle or even on the internet. You will be able to share your feelings and learn from each other’s experiences.
10. Do not feel shy
Don’t feel shy to voice your fears or share your experiences. Talk to your healthcare provider if you feel you need professional help.
Memory loss after pregnancy
As already mentioned, pregnancy brain takes a while to fade away. The time frame might differ across mothers, and it depends on the support system and a woman’s physical health post-pregnancy.
Bringing a new life into this world is the most enriching experience, but the journey to motherhood has its unique challenges. Your body and mind go through a lot of change. In order to manage pregnancy brain, keep your calm, take good care of your health, consult your doctor for proper guidance, and get more organized with schedules.
Remember, pregnancy brain is a temporary condition. It will gradually fade away, and you’ll laugh one day as you recount funny incidents caused by your forgetfulness.