Cognitive Performance Still Normal
Davies and team call for further investigation into how these cognitive changes affect the daily lives of pregnant women, and they caution against a hasty interpretation of the results.
These findings need to be interpreted with caution, particularly as the declines were statistically significant, but performance remained within the normal ranges of general cognitive functioning and memory.
Study co-author Linda Byrne
Study co-author Dr. Melissa Hayden also comments on the findings, saying, These small reductions in performance across their pregnancy will be noticeable to the pregnant women themselves and perhaps by those close to them, manifesting mainly as minor memory lapses .
However, she explains, ore significant consequences are less likely.
Pregnancy Brain Is A Real Thing And Scientists Can Prove It
Ah, baby brain. That mental fog many women claim they experience during pregnancy when they seem to constantly forget what feels like EVERYTHING.
No, youre not going slowly mad. Scientists have proven that this phenomenon is genuine, and that it might actually happen for an extremely important reason
No You Arent Losing Your Mind
Although we dont know all the reasons or ways that pregnancy changes the brain, we know there are changes on a cellular and physical level, Dr. Hostetler commented.
Mothers often perform at their baseline cognitive level when tested and compared to other non-pregnant women. However, they may feel they are underperforming or being forgetful, she said.
Some obvious influences of the brain and its function have to do with hormones and sleep changes. We can experience these influences outside of pregnancy in different waysthink PMS, all-night studying or jet lag. New connections and rewiring of the brain, called neuroplasticity, occurs throughout our life as we learn or experience new things, so pregnancy is no exception.
Studies of brain imaging have shown there are adaptions of the brain that occur after pregnancy. These include an increase in areas that have to do with empathy, which makes sense with caring for a new human being with such high demands. These are positive adaptions that show pregnancy can actually help us mentally prepare for motherhood.
Some research has also shown these changes in fathers or adoptive parents. We will likely continue to learn more about how pregnancy influences the brain as we continue researching these changes, Dr. Hostetler said.
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Is Pregnancy Brain A Real Thing
Most moms have experienced what is known as pregnancy brain or momnesia. And sure, sleep deprivation has a lot to do with why many of us feel a bitdimmer after giving birth.
But is there more going on besides the missing Zzzs?
One Australian study suggests yes, pregnancy brain is a real thing. Researchers studied more than 700 pregnant women and more than 500 non-pregnant women. They found that general cognitive functioning, memory and executive functioning were significantly reduced in pregnant women, particularly during the third trimester of pregnancy.
And it makes sense, given the significant changes our brains undergo during pregnancy. Here, some of the most surprising:
What Is Pregnancy Brain
During pregnancy and beyond, you may find yourself struggling to remember details, focus on tasks, or give your undivided attention to just about anything. This is casually referred to as pregnancy brain or mommy brain.
Pregnancy brain may begin as early as the first trimester of pregnancy, as this is when your body gets a major surge of hormones. Insomnia, a common affliction in early pregnancy, can exasperate this state of mental mushiness, too.
If youre hoping the clouds will clear upon babys arrival, youre in for a rude awakening. Hormones will continue to fluctuate postpartum and, of course, the sleep deprivation is just getting started.
You may feel more like yourself around 6 months after birth, if your hormone levels regulate, or it could last well into your childs toddler years. Hold on to your thinking cap, its going to be a wild ride!
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Living With ‘baby Brain’
First-time Vancouver mom, Suzi Au had her baby boy Lindon four months ago and said having a strong system and a way to stay organized has been helpful.
There are days when I cant keep really simple things straight that I normally would be able to said Au. Now I just put everything on my phone and make sure I write it in multiple places so I dont forget right away.
While Au is adapting to this cognitive change, she said she is surprised more healthcare providers dont discuss baby brain.
It doesnt bother me, I guess its more its just something that Im used to now, she said.
All the experts Global News spoke with agree more needs to be investigated when it comes to the maternal mind and womens health in general.
In a study she co-published in 2019, Galea and her co-authors found evidence to suggest our brains actually improve as our postpartum journey continues.
Theres some good evidence that perspective, memory and that sort of thinking about things in the future that you need to do are much better in the later on in life, she said.
Caledonia, Ont. mom Libby Ward, who has a five and seven- year- old, said she still battles baby brain daily.
The mental load of motherhood, remembering everything for everyone all the time I think sometimes it doesnt leave space for the very basic things, she said.
Four Out Of Five Women Report ‘baby Brain’
About four out of five women report experiencing cognitive changes during pregnancy.
Symptoms include forgetfulness, poor concentration and feeling they are “not as sharp” as normal.
“It’s certainly a valid thing that women experience and report, and we know objectively now that there are these changes that occur,” Associate Professor Byrne said.
The most notable change researchers observed was the decline in memory performance, particularly during the third trimester.
“It’s more significant than the other areas we looked at, and this has been known for a little while,” Associate Professor Byrne said.
Executive function was also reduced in the final stages of pregnancy.
“Women often report that multi-tasking seemed to be a bit harder , and we found that was the case,” Associate Professor Byrne said.
What Causes Baby Brain
Theres still a lot of speculation about what might cause baby brain and we have a long way to go before we have any definitive answers.
An intriguing study published last year showed there were reductions in grey matter in the brains of pregnant women in regions known to be closely tied to processing social information, such as decoding infant facial expressions and establishing healthy bonding between mum and baby.
This presents a compelling idea that baby brain is actually an important adaptive phenomenon that might help women prepare for raising their children by allowing the their brains to adapt to their new role as mothers. Importantly, this same study showed losses of grey matter in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for memory function, are restored two years after the birth of a child. This supports the idea cognitive declines are not permanent.
There are still several questions that will need to be answered so we can understand more about this phenomenon. First, postpartum measures of cognitive functioning are frequently not included when exploring cognition and pregnancy. This means its unclear whether the changes seen during pregnancy extend into early parenthood and, if so, how long they might last.
What Causes Momnesia
Its 100% normal to have memory lapses or be forgetful when youre busy, stressed, or short on sleep, Christenson says.
Jane Martin, MD, director of the Neuropsychological Testing and Evaluation Center at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, agrees. “When you are not getting enough sleep and are multitasking, nobody’s memory is good,” she says. “You are not cognitively sharp when you haven’t slept well.”
Surging hormone levels and new priorities may help explain why pregnancy brain happens.
“There is 15 to 40 times more progesterone and estrogen marinating the brain during pregnancy,” Louann Brizendine, MD, director of the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco, says. “And these hormones affect all kinds of neurons in the brain. By the time the woman delivers, there are huge surges of oxytocin that cause the uterus to contract and the body to produce milk — and they also affect the brain circuits.”
Pregnancy also shuffles what gets your attention. Your IQ doesn’t change, but your priorities do.
“You only have so many shelves in your brain, so the top three are filled with baby stuff,” Brizendine says.
Hormones may also affect spatial memory — which includes remembering where things are — in pregnant women and new moms, a British study shows.
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Is ‘baby Brain’ Real
Putting keys in the fridge, forgetting Aunt Edna’s birthday, pouring juice on cereal They’re the kinds of thing you might hear of pregnant women doing sometimes called ‘baby brain’. But is it real?
To find out, researchers at Melbourne’s Deakin University looked at the results of 20 studies which examined cognitive function in 709 pregnant women and 521 non-pregnant women. Their meta-analysis has been published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
The studies we analysed showed general cognitive functioning, memory and executive functioning of pregnant women was significantly lower than in non-pregnant women particularly during the third trimester of pregnancy, says researcher Associate Professor Linda Byrne, a psychologist and neuroscientist in Deakin’s School of Psychology.
So that seems to confirm a lot of what we hear anecdotally where women say they start forgetting things during pregnancy they put the car keys in the fridge or miss appointments, she adds.
Physical Changes In The Brain
As it turns out, there may be even more happening on a cellular level thats further fueling pregnancy brain.
A 2016 study determined that there are undeniable physiological changes that occur in the structure of all womens brains during pregnancy.
Scans showed that pregnant women will categorically experience a significant decrease in gray matter volume in areas of the brain that help with social cognition. These changes were also found to occur in parts of the brain that foster relationship building.
This could be the brains way of clearing space to make room for maternal attachment. So, while you may not be able to recall if you brushed your teeth in the morning, you will be ready to snuggle down like a mama bear.
Interestingly, follow-up scans showed that these volume changes can last for 2 years or more, meaning some aspects of pregnancy brain might stick around through your childs toddler years.
You dont need to throw in the towel and accept your forgetful fate just yet. There are some brain-boosting steps you can take to sharpen your mental acuity.
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Is Pregnancy Brain Real And Normal
As mentioned, pregnancy brain is real and actually very common, even in the most organized, the master of multitasking, and with great memory!
The good news is: While pregnancy brain is normal, it is temporary. It does get frustrating losing organizational skills and becoming more forgetful, so dont worry about this being a long-term issue. Your brain will soon come back to normal a few months after giving birth.
What We Found
Our results showed that when pregnant women are compared to non-pregnant women, they perform much worse on tasks measuring memory and executive functioning , and this difference is most pronounced during the third trimester. Women were tested with tasks such as the digit span test, which involves remembering digits in a line.
We also found when the same women were tested at multiple points during their pregnancies, the decline appeared to start during the first trimester, then stabilise from the middle to the end of the pregnancy.
But its important to note that while we found differences, the pregnant women were still broadly performing in the normal range, albeit at the lower end, particularly for memory tasks. So while some pregnant women may notice they dont feel as sharp as usual, these effects are realistically not likely to have any dramatic impact on everyday life.
Instead, some women will simply find it seems to take more mental effort to do tasks that were previously routine. These changes might be noticeable to people very close to them such as family or friends, but this is highly dependent on each womans personal experience of pregnancy.
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Why Is It So
Just why baby brain’ occurs remains a mystery. It requires a bit more research to get a clear answer, says Ms Davies. The reduction that we see in some areas of cognitive functioning during pregnancy could be due to a number of factors. For example, we know that pregnancy is associated with changes in sleep patterns, moods, stress levels and hormones.
All of these factors, she explains, have been shown to impact cognitive functioning in other groups.
To learn more about baby brain’, the Deakin researchers will continue to track women from before pregnancy, through to 12 months after birth. This will allow us to look more closely at whether these changes are still there in the long-term, and what kind of factors might influence this, says Ms Davies.
Ms Davies says pregnant women can manage symptoms of baby brain’ by:
- keeping lists and writing things down
What Is Mommy Brain
Using magnetic resonance imaging, a team of British researchers led by London anesthesiologist Anita Holdcroft, M.D., scanned the brains of 10 pregnant women who were in their final two months of pregnancy and then again at two and six months postpartum. Holdcrofts original objective was to look for swollen air passages and changes in brain size in pregnant women with preeclampsia. She was shocked to learn that instead of swelling, the subjects brains were smaller during pregnancy than after delivery.
Brain cell volume actually decreases in pregnancy, Holdcroft says. The changes are not that big, but they are measurable. Speculating that hormonal alterations of brain metabolism are responsible for the shrinkage, Holdcroft found similar changes in brain volume in menstruating women. She since has launched a larger study of pregnant women to test the hormone theory.
The link between brain contraction and so-called pregnancy-induced slowness is not clear, but research conducted earlier this year by University of Southern California psychologist J. Galen Buckwalter, Ph.D., suggests that pregnant brains not only shrink, but they also suffer impaired cognitive functioning.
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The huge learning curve of taking care of a newborn also contributes.
“You’re gathering so much new information, so worried about simply keeping your baby alive and well-fed, that it consumes your brain,” Seip explains.
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When Does Pregnancy Brain Start
It varies from woman to woman. Symptoms can set in as early as the first trimester, since thats when your hormone changes are typically the most dramatic, and mood swings and exhaustion make moms-to-be all the more susceptible to pregnancy brain. But it can also crop up late into pregnancy. Discomfort, cramps and lack of sleep peak in the third trimester and have a way of distracting you from day-to-day tasks.
Pregnancy And Brain Shrinkage
Not all changes during pregnancy are visiblethe brain actually gets smaller in size due to a reduction of gray matter. But theres good news! A decrease in volume does not equate to a loss of function.
Gray matter affects social cognition, involving processing and responding to social signals, as well as the ability to exhibit empathy and create emotional attachments. While a shrinking brain may sound worrisome, a new study by Nature Neuroscience notes an increase in brain efficiency, enabling expectant mothers to interpret the needs and emotions of their babies, creating an instinctive maternal attachment and bond.
Lastly, dont forget that momnesia and pregnancy brain shrinkage wont last forever! The fog will lift and gray matter will return once your baby is born.
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Is Baby Brain A Myth
Research suggests that the mental fog may be a matter of expectations
As many as four out of every five pregnant women say that they suffer from pregnancy braindeficits in memory and cognitive ability that arise during pregnancy, making women more forgetful and slow-witted. Yet studies on the phenomenon have generally not supported these claims: although some have found evidence of problems on certain types of tasks, others, including a recent paper published by researchers in Utah, have found no signs of cognitive problems at all. Some experts believe that pregnancy brain and its postnatal cousin, baby brain, could largely be a product of confirmation bias: pregnant women and new moms expect to experience brain fog and therefore believe they are actually affected. Others argue that the mental symptoms might simply be too difficult to confirm in a laboratory setting.
There is variety in the results, but overall most studies suggest there are few to no memory impairments associated with pregnancy, says Michael Larson, a psychologist at Brigham Young and a co-author of the recent paper. He thinks the reason the myth persists may be that women selectively look for evidence that supports the cultural expectation. For example, when a pregnant woman loses her car keys, she might blame pregnancy brainwithout recalling the times she lost her car keys before she was pregnant.
What Causes Pregnancy Brain
Its normal to have memory lapses or feel overly forgetful whenever youre exceptionally busy, stressed out, or running on not enough sleep. Pregnancy, of course, tends to involve all of these causes. When you arent getting enough sleep, and youre still trying to multitask, no ones memory is as sharp as usual. Not to mention, surging hormone levels and brand new priorities help explain pregnancy fog. You have between 15 and 40 times more progesterone and estrogen in your system during pregnancy, and these hormones affect all kinds of neurons in your brain.
A British study found that hormones can really affect a pregnant womans spatial memory, which includes remembering where things are.
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