Pregnancy brain

Posted on September 14th, 2012

Are you constantly losing your keys, or doing strange and silly things like leaving your phone in the fridge? You may have “pregnancy brain”. We take a look at this common condition and give you tips on how to cope with it.

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.”

Possible causes for “pregnancy brain”

  • 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 a high-tech helper like a Blackberry, cell 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.
Even though there’s still much debate around whether “pregnancy brain” even exists, some researchers have found a couple of intriguing facts:
  • According to a study mentioned in the article “Effects of pregnancy on memory”, a pregnant woman’s brain actually shrinks, particularly during the last trimester. Some researchers maintain it shrinks between 3–5% while others say between 4–8%. The good news is that the brain returns to its normal size a few weeks or months after giving birth.
  • A similar study at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan, showed that women in their third trimester of pregnancy have 15% more memory problems than the average person. This could be the result of the high levels of oxytocin and oestrogen in the body during the third trimester.
  • Despite these studies, Helen Christensen, a researcher at The Australian National University in Canberra conducted a study that found that pregnant women performed as well as non-pregnant women. She says that women may forget things from time to time and tend to focus a great deal on children and their upcoming birth, but this doesn’t mean they’ve lost their capacity for thinking logically or remembering things.


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