New research casts doubt, but most new moms beg to differ.
Bena Blakeslee, a mother of two in Westchester, N.Y., remembers her brush with “pregnancy brain.”
At an airport while pregnant, she frantically paced a parking lot, searching for her Jeep. After an hour, she called her husband to tell him that their car had been stolen. But then she realized that she had just gone to the wrong parking lot.
That wasn’t her only memory glitch. “I also went to the wrong airport twice on the same trip, and another time, I was sitting at the wrong gate and completely missed my flight,” Blakeslee says.
Many pregnant women and mothers can relate. Those bouts of forgetfulness go by many names, including:
• pregnancy brain
• mommy brain
• pregnancy amnesia
But a recent study questions whether pregnancy brain exists. Who is right — the moms or the researchers? And how can you handle fuzzy memory during pregnancy? Here are answers.
Pregnancy Brain Is Real
“If you read pregnancy manuals and listen to pregnant mothers – yes, there is such a thing as pregnancy brain or momnesia, and there is also evidence from research showing deficits in memory,” says Helen Christensen, PhD, of The Australian National University.
But “the evidence from our study shows that the capacity of the brain is unaltered in pregnancy,” Christensen tells WebMD in an email.
That is, a pregnant woman’s brain is unchanged, though she may not be as razor sharp as she once was.
Reasons for Pregnancy Brain
Blakeslee’s forgetfulness is understandable. Like many moms, her life swirls like a tornado. She constantly handles the needs and wants of her two young kids, a torrent of other household tasks and chores — and she rarely, if ever, gets a good night’s sleep.
Under these circumstances, it is 100% normal to have memory lapses or be forgetful, Christenson says.
Jane Martin, assistant professor of psychiatry and 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,” Martin says. “You are not cognitively sharp when you haven’t slept well.”
Hormones and Pregnancy Brain
Surging hormone levels and new priorities may explain why pregnancy brain happens.
“There are 15 to 40 times more progesterone and estrogen marinating the brain during pregnancy, and these hormones affect all kinds of neurons in the brain,” says Louann Brizendine, MD, director of the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco and author of several books, including the Male 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.”
And pregnancy also shuffles what gets your attention. “You only have so many shelves in your brain so the top three are filled with baby stuff,” Brizendine says.
Your IQ doesn’t change, but your priorities sure do.
Hormones may also affect spatial memory — which includes remembering where things are — in pregnant women and new moms, a recent British study shows.