Pregnancy Brain: Fact Or Fiction? Answers From Experts
During pregnancy, your body goes through tons of changes! There are the obvious physical changes, but you might also notice changes in your memory or thinking and start to observe what many women call “pregnancy brain.”
But what exactly is “pregnancy brain?” And is it fact or fiction? Is it a real part of pregnancy or just a good excuse for when you can’t find your phone?
We’re here to answer those questions!
First, we’ll talk about what pregnancy brain feels like, and then we’ll get into the science of it and whether or not pregnancy actually affects your brain.
And, finally, we’ll talk about what you really want to know: how to deal with pregnancy brain and stay on top of everything during these special nine months!
What Is Pregnancy Brain?
If you’ve started wondering what in the world is happening to you and have a sneaking suspicion you might be dealing with what other women call “pregnancy brain,” how can you know?
When women speak of pregnancy brain, many say that their brain feels fuzzy or foggy and that they aren’t able to concentrate. It might also mean that you forget more easily, misplace things, and mix up (or even forget!) words.
You and those closest to you may notice the change, but this phenomenon of pregnancy brain doesn’t usually affect important things (like your job) in a big way.
There’s no doubt that lots of women claim to experience a change in their clarity of thinking or memory, but is it real or just a figment of their imagination?
Is Pregnancy Brain Real?
The short answer to this question: yes, most likely! There aren’t tons of studies on the idea of pregnancy brain, but there are a few that we can look at.
In a study by Brown and Schaffir called "Pregnancy Brain: A Review of Cognitive Changes in Pregnancy and Postpartum,” they comment that, “the consensus among researchers is that pregnancy does confer deficits in working memory relative to nonpregnant controls.”
Working memory is a short-term memory that has to do with remembering things relevant to completing a certain task. Another area of memory that might be more affected than others: free recall. Free recall is remembering (in any order) items on a list.
Yep, if you’re thinking of your shopping list, to-do list, and general fuzziness or lack of focus, you’re on the right track!
In another study called “Hormones and Cognitive Functioning During Late Pregnancy and Postpartum: A Longitudinal Study,” Jessica F. Henry and Barbara B. Sherwin say this:
“Our findings that women from the pregnancy group performed worse than those in the nonpregnant control group on some, but not all, verbal memory tasks is consistent with those of other studies. A persistent impairment on verbal list recall during all trimesters of pregnancy and up to 32 weeks postpartum has been previously observed.”
But the good news is that they also comment that pregnant women’s memory was still in a normal range and never seriously affected.
So, what’s the summary of that research?
First of all, more research needs to be done to really understand why and how pregnancy affects a woman’s memory and thinking. But we can tentatively say that no, pregnancy brain is not just in your head! It’s more than likely a real phenomenon.
But what exactly causes or contributes to it?
What Causes Pregnancy Brain?
The research here is fuzzy as well (just like your brain). But there are a few things that probably affect your memory and clarity of thinking while you’re expecting a baby.
Hormones take the blame for a lot of issues during pregnancy! And, when it comes to pregnancy brain, it’s no different.
In general, hormones can powerfully affect your brain and how it functions. And pregnancy causes huge fluctuations in your hormones!
Changes In Sleep
Your sleep is likely to change when you are pregnant — usually, you get less of it!
Pregnant or not, your brain simply doesn’t function as well when you haven’t slept enough. A lack of sleep during pregnancy can certainly contribute to the brain fog you notice.
Increased Stress And New Priorities
Let’s face it: you’re probably overall more stressed and scattered as you prepare for your little one! Maybe you’re stressed about preparations, delivery day, or what life will be like when your baby arrives.
Or it might simply be that your priorities have shifted and some things that used to be a priority have now been put on the back burner.
Whether it’s stress, anxiety, new priorities, or a mix of all three, that’s quite a lot on your brain! This can also impact pregnancy brain.
Does Pregnancy Actually Change Your Brain?
OK, so we know that, for one reason or another, being pregnant probably affects how you think and remember things. But does pregnancy actually change, for example, the structure of your brain?
It turns out that women lose some gray matter during pregnancy. Sounds like bad news, right? Not necessarily!
This change is not for the worse. It’s actually a specialization of the brain — fine-tuning the brain to help a mom connect with and care for her baby as well as handle the stress that motherhood can bring.
That’s a plus and a great way to think about pregnancy brain!
Tips For Combating Pregnancy Brain
Now that you’ve gotten some of your questions answered, we’ve put together a list of practical ways to help you get through these moments of fogginess and forgetfulness.
1) Make A To-Do List
If you’ve never been one to make lists, now might be the time to start!
Writing a list of things to do can help you see exactly what needs to be done (which might reduce your stress) and also ensures that you don’t forget anything important!
Daily and weekly to-do lists can be helpful. You may also want to write a list of things to do each month of your pregnancy and a list of things you want to accomplish in the nursery before your baby arrives.
Expert tip: Something to put at the top of your list is buying a crib and crib mattress (or a bassinet). As soon as you arrive home with your little one in tow, your baby will need a safe place to sleep!
Choose a safe crib and a breathable mattress, like Newton Baby’s Crib Mattress. Made of 90 percent air and 10 percent food-grade polymer, our Wovenaire® Core mattresses are washable and much more breathable than leading organic mattresses.
2) Eliminate Stress
Eliminating stress and making time for yourself is important during pregnancy! Say “no” to some non-essential activities, or enlist the help of family and friends to get everything done.
Plus, make sure you’re not stressed right before the baby arrives.
Finish the big, important tasks (like furnishing the nursery) well before your due date. Put the finishing touch on the nursery by putting adorable sheets on your baby’s crib. Then all that’s left to do is wait for your little one to make their appearance!
When it comes to crib sheets, look no further than Newton Baby’s Organic Cotton Sheets. Cute, soft, and breathable. What more could you (or your baby) want?
3) Write Things Down
You may want to consider keeping a pen and paper in your purse to write things down before you forget, at least for the duration of your pregnancy. Jotting down a note in your phone can also come in handy.
4) Set An Alarm
Writing things down is a good place to start when it comes to combating pregnancy brain. Setting an alarm on your phone can help you remember what you wrote down, especially if you need to do something at a specific time.
For example, if you think you’ll forget to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer, all you have to do is set an alarm on your phone and let it do the thinking for you!
5) Designate A Place For Important Items
This is something you may have never had to do, but there’s nothing wrong with picking up new habits while you’re pregnant!
Avoid misplacing important things like your keys, wallet, and phone by designating a specific place to keep them.
6) Take Care Of Yourself
As we mentioned earlier, changes in your sleep and extra stress and anxiety can all contribute to pregnancy brain.
So, for more than one reason, it’s important to take care of yourself as an expecting mom! Eat well, stay active, and catch a little more shut-eye if you can!
Finally, take pregnancy brain with a sense of humor. Go easy on yourself and laugh — this is just another part of the wonderful adventure of pregnancy and motherhood!
Love Your Pregnant Self
Dealing with a little forgetfulness and foggy thinking may simply go hand in hand with pregnancy. Instead of beating yourself up about it, accept it as part of these nine crazy and wonderful months!
In addition to taking good care of yourself by eating well, exercising, and resting, combat your pregnancy brain by following the tips listed above. Get started with a to-do list and don’t wait to get your little one’s nursery set up with a Newton Baby Crib Mattress and Organic Cotton Sheets.
With a little help from your lists, family, and friends, you’ll be ready and waiting for your baby in no time! Take that, pregnancy brain.