How Mommy Got Her Brain Back
Many pregnant women swear their fuzzy memory is due to their pregnancy or recent delivery. But, is momnesia just a myth or does it really exist? We've asked a few of Northridge Hospital’s expert OB/GYNs to give us the 411.
Q: What is pregnancy brain?
A: It is that lapse in memory or forgetfulness experienced during pregnancy or as a new mom. Other names for it include pregnancy amnesia, mommy brain and momnesia.
Q: Does pregnancy brain really exist?
A: A 2010 study* on the topic stated, ''When focused on a task, women who are pregnant or new mothers, do not have cognitive deficits and perform as well as their non-pregnant contemporaries,” concluding pregnancy brain is a MYTH.
But, another study by the Bradford Institute for Health Research, University of Bradford**, found that “spatial recognition memory (memory used for recording information about one's environment) ability was reduced during the later stages of pregnancy. The effect also lasts for at least three months after the birth, concluding there is TRUTH to the phenomenon.
Yet another 2008 study*** revealed, a woman's memory can be impaired for at least a year after giving birth. The bottom line is research on pregnancy and memory is limited, but the experts do agree there is a pattern. It’s almost impossible to account for the variable lifestyle factors that contribute to the memory lapses. Although, most expectant moms will tell you pregnancy brain does exist.
Q: What causes it?
A: Experts chalk it up to altered hormone levels during pregnancy
(15 to 40 times more progesterone and estrogen) that can affect memory processing regions of the brain. Of course, lifestyle factors also contribute– the learning curve of your new life, multitasking and caring for older children, can be taxing on the brain when you're constantly taking in so much. Women accumulate up to 700 hours of sleep debt in the first year after having a baby. All of these combined result in the perfect combination for momnesia.
Q: What can I do to make it better?
A: You'll probably see the biggest difference just by increasing your sleep, but other memory joggers include: Taking your prenatal vitamins, DHA and Vitamin D3; use creative reminders such as voicemail messages and sticky notes, taking advantage of the new pregnancy-related apps for smartphones and exercising -- it's vitally important during pregnancy. It also calms your stress levels and encourage healthy focus on tasks of the day. Don't stress out - know that it is only short term! The scatter brain effect might just be a cue that it's time to slow down and simplify your life.
Q: What if these memory lapses continue after the baby is born?
A: While research shows the fogginess can last up to a year after having a baby, many women start to see at least some improvement once they adjust to their new life. No need to worry unless you're forgetting major activities like how to drive a car. In addition, if your fogginess is getting you down or you notice a loss of interest or pleasure almost every day, you could be suffering from post-partum depression and should talk to your doctor.
*The British Journal of Psychiatry
**Bradford Institute for Health Research, University of Bradford
***Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology