A new Australian study has found that pregnancy brain is really a thing. Researchers at Deakin University found overall cognitive functioning was poorer in pregnant women than in non-pregnant women. The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that general cognitive functioning, memory and executive functioning were significantly reduced during the third trimester of pregnancy, but not during the first two trimesters.
“The declines start to happen between the first and the second trimester, and then look like they stabilise, but are most obvious in the third trimester,” senior author Associate Professor Linda Byrne said.
Possible causes for pregnancy brain
Gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Mmaselemo Tsuari says that many physiological changes take place during pregnancy, which could explain why moms-to-be are sometimes so forgetful.
“While a clear cause for the changes in thinking and memory during pregnancy haven’t been found yet, most medical professionals think that pregnancy brain is caused by the surge in hormones women experience during pregnancy.”
- In the first trimester, for instance, many pregnant women are distracted by thoughts about their impending motherhood or about their baby’s health. On top of that, when women are newly pregnant, they’re exhausted and physically sick from the hormonal changes taking place in their bodies.
- During the third trimester, a significant number of pregnant women may feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the prospect of becoming a mother and how it will permanently change their lives. Many women struggle to get a good night’s sleep at this time, especially if their tummy is uncomfortably large or their bladder is waking them several times a night.
- Sleep deprivation can make you more anxious or depressed, and a lack of sleep also affects memory. So it’s possible that a variety of factors contribute to memory loss in the third trimester. In fact, the Wayne State University study also found levels of anxiety and depression peaked during the third trimester of pregnancy.
- Another possible cause of changes in memory is a deficiency of iron in the body – it’s known that one of the common effects of iron deficiency or anaemia is forgetfulness. From around the twelfth week of pregnancy a baby consumes a great deal of Mom’s iron reserves.
What can you do about pregnancy brain?
- Learn to laugh at yourself. Get your partner to see the lighter side of pregnancy too.
- Take your pregnancy vitamins, especially omega-3 oils, and iron supplements. Make lists and stick post-its wherever you need them or use your smart phone diary or laptop to remind you about the things you need to do.
- Simplify your life and delegate as much as you can. This way, you’ll have fewer things to remember or worry about.
- Try to remember things you’ve learnt recently or teach yourself something new.
- Use mnemonics, or methods of memory association, as a way to remember things. It may be easier to remember your tasks for the week, for example, if you associate them with things such as a short poem, a special word or picture, or an acronym that’s easy to remember.