Have you ever heard of pregnancy brain? It’s totally a thing! And I’m not just saying it to make you feel better either.
There are actual reasons why many women experience pregnancy brain and today I’m going to break it all down for you.
Read on to learn what pregnancy brain is, why it happens, and perhaps most importantly – what you can do about it!
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What is pregnancy brain?
First, let’s talk about what pregnancy brain actually is. Symptoms of pregnancy brain often include:
- Brain fog
- Difficulty focusing on tasks
- Difficulty completing tasks
- Trouble with word retrieval
- Nonsensical behaviors
So a symptom list is all well and good, but I think examples hold a lot of power here, ha. Have you ever walked into a room looking for something, only to not remember what it was you were looking for? Yep, that basically sums pregnancy brain up in a sentence.
Simply put, pregnancy brain refers to the forgetfulness that some pregnant women experience during pregnancy.
Is this sounding familiar?
What causes pregnancy brain?
It probably comes as no surprise that a main contributing factor to pregnancy brain is, you guessed it, sleep deprivation. While there are other causes, all of which are equally as important, sleep deprivation is the big one.
Sleep deprivation can do some pretty crazy things to a person. I remember being in an absolute fog those first several weeks after having my boys.
Let’s discuss all the causes of pregnancy brain in more detail!
1. Sleep deprivation
For obvious reasons, sleep deprivation plays a big role in pregnancy brain. Maybe you are one of the lucky few that didn’t experience sleep disruptions during pregnancy, but if you are anything like the vast majority of us, you are all too familiar with pregnancy-related insomnia and sleep difficulties.
Between a growing belly, a frequent need to empty your bladder, and just plain, generalized discomfort, sleep can be hard to come by in pregnancy.
Sleep deprivation can not only impact your mood, I know I’m no fun to be around when my sleep bank is in the negative, but it can also impair your memory as well.
And impaired memory, well it’s basically synonymous with forgetfulness.
2. Hormonal changes
Good ole’ hormones. They are certainly to thank, well really to blame, for so many lovely things that occur during pregnancy. Actually, they really are to blame for so many lovely things that us women get to experience throughout our lifetimes.
Some medical professionals and researchers believe that the drastic hormone surge that occurs during pregnancy can actually have a cognitive impact.
This study from 2014 found that pregnant women in their second trimester and beyond scored noticeably lower than non-pregnant women on Spatial Recognition Memory (SRM) tests!
3. Stress and anxiety
3. Stress and anxiety
Similarly to how sleep deprivation can impact mood and memory, so can anxiety and stress. Even though pregnancy is a very exciting time for a lot of women, it can also be a very overwhelming and stressful time too.
Stress and anxiety can make it harder to think clearly and difficult to process everyday things. All of these things can contribute to brain fog, forgetfulness, and ta-da…pregnancy brain!
4. Physical changes in the brain
Turns out that there might actually be more to pregnancy brain than hormones, sleep deprivation, and stress.
A 2016 study found that there are long-lasting changes to the human brain structure after pregnancy! Specifically, there is a decrease in gray matter volume in areas of the brain that help with social cognition.
What’s equally as interesting is that follow-up research showed that the decrease in gray matter volume can actually last for 2 years or longer.
Is pregnancy brain real?
Yes, pregnancy brain is a real thing. Not everyone experiences pregnancy brain. Or should I say, not everyone experiences it on a significant level.
But if I had to guess, I would say that the large majority of pregnant women experience some degree of brain fog at some point during their pregnancy.
The changes that were discovered in the 2016 research study published in Nature Neuroscience showed that changes to the brain also occurred in the area related to relationship building.
Think of it as the brain’s way of clearing space to make room for maternal attachment. Your brain is simply prioritizing what is most important and that, during pregnancy and those early days and weeks as a new mama are, you and your little one.
When does pregnancy brain start?
The onset of pregnancy brain is different for everyone. For some women, pregnancy brain occurs as early as the first trimester while others experience it more towards the end of pregnancy.
Some women might even experience a degree of pregnancy brain all throughout their pregnancy!
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Is brain fog an early pregnancy symptom?
Brain fog isn’t one of those common early pregnancy symptoms that most of us are familiar with but if you experienced brain fog early in pregnancy, you certainly wouldn’t be alone there.
Remember our discussion earlier about how hormonal changes are one of the causes of pregnancy brain?
Well, guess what happens in early pregnancy? A pretty intense and abrupt surge in certain hormones. Making more sense now, right?
Related Reading: Weird and Early Signs of Pregnancy You Need to Know About!
What can I do about it?
There might not be anything you can do to completely avoid pregnancy brain altogether, but there are some things you can do to help!
I totally understand that this one is easier said than done! What pregnant person (or new mama) doesn’t long for more sleep?
If you find yourself really struggling with pregnancy brain though, I highly recommend looking into sleep hygiene and see if there is anything you can do to help improve the quality of your sleep.
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2. Healthy eating
Eating healthy has benefits for everyone, not just pregnant women. You could spend hours researching the benefits of healthy eating, but we’re not going to do that today.
Here are some specific food recommendations that have been shown to improve memory:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: considered to be your healthy fats and include things such as certain fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts
- Berries: can help prevent premature aging and improve brain function, blueberries, in particular, are good for this
- Dark, leafy greens: have been shown to reduce age-related memory loss
- Whole grains: chickpeas, lentils, whole-grain couscous
- Whole eggs: egg yolk contains the nutrient, choline, which can help regulate memory
This is not an all-inclusive list by any means, just one to get you started. You can definitely google other brain-boosting foods if these don’t seem to tickle your fancy or you want some more variety!
3. Staying hydrated
There are so many benefits to staying hydrated. And this goes for all people, not just pregnant people. Your water intake requirements are slightly higher during pregnancy.
Staying adequately hydrated helps your body absorb essential nutrients into your cells.
Studies show that dehydration can have both physical and cognitive impacts on people. These same studies showed that dehydration can impact attention, complex problem-solving, and coordination (source).
It can be hard, for various reasons, to keep up with the amount of water you need during pregnancy.
Here are some tips to help you keep up:
- Keep a full water cup by your side at all times
- Give flavored water a whirl or add some fruit to flavor it
- Add more fruit in your diet – most fruits have a lot of water in them
- Find the right temperature – not everyone likes their water with ice, if you have the appropriate temperature for you then you are likely to drink more
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4. To-Do lists
I am all about some to-do lists…and this isn’t just during pregnancy either. I thoroughly enjoy having a little something to help remind me of all the things I need to get done!
As a mama of two, I feel like I always have so much stuff floating around in my head and a to-do list definitely helps keep me on track.
This is a little tip I like to share because it can also be so helpful for pregnancy and the new mom brain!
5. Memory-boosting games and activities
Give your brain a workout with some brain-boosting activities. Try things like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or memory (the actual game). There are lots of apps out there that can help with this too!
And don’t forget about a physical book. Reading is a healthy mental exercise for your brain too!
Tying it all together
Brain fog, forgetfulness, and difficulty focusing sound familiar to you, mama? Rest assured that you won’t suffer from pregnancy brain for the rest of your life.
Although pregnancy brain does turn into “momnesia” for a lot of new mamas, that too will eventually pass. Be sure to give some of my tips above a shot!
Cheers to an even better birth, mama!