A lot of things grow during pregnancy – your baby, belly, boobs, feet, love of strange foods. But one thing seems to shrink: your brain. Suddenly you find yourself misplacing your keys five times a day, forgetting to feed the dog or, like me, needing constant lists just to remember where my other children are. This so called ‘baby brain’ is a common phenomenon. But is it real? And what’s the cause?
The Pregnant Brain
Does pregnancy really alter cognitive function? Short answer: absolutely. It has to do with the shrinking of gray matter in expect mums (the part of the brain responsible for carrying out tasks). Reduced gray matter is what causes forgetfulness, indecision, erratic emotions and other common pregnancy gripes.
However, it’s important to note that shrinking gray matter doesn’t equal a shrinking brain. Or, for that matter, ongoing memory loss. Phew. Instead, you can think of it as a kind of ‘cognitive spring cleaning’ that sharpens your mind for the complexity of motherhood. In fact, there’s a clear link between a mother’s ‘baby brain’ and her strong feelings of attachment and protectiveness towards her infant.
The Science Bit
Many researchers have tried to further understand the science behind ‘baby brain’. One study in Medical Journal of Australia pulled data from several different studies to reveal that 4 out of 5 women report symptoms of ‘baby brain’. And, when tested against non-pregnant women, they performed significantly worse on tasks measuring memory, attention span, decision-making and planning. The results even showed that ‘baby brain’ peaked in the Third Trimester.
Brain Back On Track
By the time I was pregnant with my third child, I was basically accustomed to ‘baby brain’. I would do things like put the bread in the fridge, spend 30 minutes looking for my keys and worst of all, I even poured my breastmilk down the kitchen sink after having pumped for God knows how long. But there are a few simple habits you can adopt that’ll help you function normally (almost).
Take note. When you’re pregnant, a fridge calendar just doesn’t cut it. Carry a notebook everywhere you go (or keep a reminder list in your phone), so you can refresh your memory wherever you are. Better still, keep a journal to help clarify thoughts and assist with a more peaceful night’s sleep (Note the benefits of journalling go way beyond this).
Give small items a “spot”. Make sure your keys and other important objects are always stored in the same place.
Sleep. A lot. Never forget that you’re growing a little person inside you. And they rely on your being rested and revitalised – not to mention a wonderful catalyst for mental alertness.
Make time to move. It’s safe to exercise at all stages of pregnancy – just get guidance from doctor first. Physical activity helps with an abundance of things: sleep, circulation, energy, post-labor recovery, mood and cognitive function.
Seek out support. If you’re struggling to keep up with your to-do list, ask for help. Whether it’s your friend, mother, partner or baby-sitter, lightening your load will help you feel more in control.
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