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Does baby brain exist?

If you’ve got a little one on the way, you may find yourself blaming baby brain every time you lose your keys. But why do some women feel more forgetful during pregnancy?

Along with a whole list of things that happen to our bodies when we’re pregnant, so called ‘baby brain’ is one of the more bizarre. Your once perfectly functioning brain seems to have turned to mush overnight and now you can’t remember your pin code, phone number or even your partner’s name. But is this ‘mumnesia’ due to actual changes in your brain or simply a side effect of being more tired, emotional and preoccupied during pregnancy? Here are some theories…

Theory 1: Changes in the brain

One study done at Royal Holloway, University of London, found that pregnant women show more activity in the emotional, right side of the brain as they prepare to bond with their babies. This could explain why some women become more forgetful as they are, in turn, underusing the part of the brain that deals with memory.

Dr Victoria Bourne, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway said, “The results suggest that during pregnancy, there are changes in how the brain processes facial emotions so that mothers are neurologically prepared to bond with their babies at birth.” So, it’s great news that your brain is giving you a helping hand to bond with your baby – not so great that you’ve lost your phone. Again.

Theory 2: Tiredness

During pregnancy a lot of your energy is being used to nurture your unborn baby. Couple this with raging hormones and lack of sleep and it’s hardly surprising you’re feeling exhausted. So, one explanation for baby brain could be that we’re just too wiped out to be on top of things. With this in mind, make sure you take every opportunity to rest and give your mind and body time to cope with all the changes. Don’t put yourself under pressure to do too much and listen to your body when it’s telling you to slow down. The HSE has more advice about about staying healthy and well during pregnancy.

Theory 3: Concentrating on other things

Pregnancy is a big deal, especially if it’s your first child. Not only do you have to cope with enormous changes happening to your body, you also have to prepare emotionally for how your life is about to change. So it’s little wonder that you might forget to put the washing on, or that you need to buy a pint of milk on your way home from work. Brenda McLackland, a consultant clinical psychologist, explains, “During most pregnancies women prioritise information about both their pregnancy and baby. Less relevant information may be missed and therefore will not be remembered. Tiredness is likely to exacerbate this further.” So don’t beat yourself up if you suffer from the occasional memory lapse. Maybe it’s just your brain doing what it’s designed to do – concentrating on your baby.

Theory 4: Expecting it to happen

Another theory is that women are so aware of the baby brain phenomenon that they blame pregnancy for normal memory lapses because it’s what’s expected of them. A study into cognitive changes in pregnancy had some interesting results. The study asked women about changes they’d noticed during pregnancy, and only three out of 198 women mentioned cognitive changes like forgetfulness. But when the same women were given a checklist of possible changes including options like memory, more women said they had experienced negative changes – for example, 32% reported that their memory was worse.

The study concluded that women would only report negative changes to their memory if they were asked specifically about it, not if they were thinking about how pregnancy affected them in general. So it could be that pregnant women are just attributing their usual forgetfulness to their pregnancy because they are expecting their memory to get worse.

It would seem that no one is quite sure what causes baby brain, or if it actually exists in the first place – there are plenty of theories but nothing conclusive. But that doesn’t make it any the less real for those who are experiencing it. So, whichever theory you want to believe, next time you find yourself at the shops still wearing your slippers or closing your front door with your keys still inside, try not to beat yourself up about it – you’ve got a much more important task ahead of you!

Like this? Read the eight embarrassing pregnancy side effects your pharmacist won’t blush at. 


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