In pregnancy as many as 50-80% of women complain of feeling forgetful, or not as sharp minded as they once were. These symptoms are more common in the third trimester and are sometimes referred to as “pregnancy brain” or “momnesia.” While the significant amounts of physical change that occur during pregnancy are obvious, the effects of pregnancy on the human brain are virtually unknown. Changes that take place beneath the surface include substantial hormonal shifts, and often times decreased quality of sleep and an increased anxiousness or fear.
These changes are believed to play a factor in “Momnesia.” However, more research needs to be done in order to affirm these hypotheses. A fascinating 2016 study, published in Nature America concluded that pregnancy is associated with pronounced changes in the structure of the human brain. The study involved 25 first time moms and MRI comparisons, MRI’s were performed pre and post pregnancy. The study found that gray matter, which is the darker tissue of the brain and spinal cord, consisting mainly of nerve cell bodies and branching dendrites, is reduced during pregnancy. This part of the brain is important in processing connections, the reduction in gray matter occured in several areas of the brain, specifically regions of social cognition, a form of emotional intelligence. The good news is that loss in amount does not necessarily imply loss of function. A similar change to brain tissue occurs in teenage years and during menopause. Like in pregnancy, these milestones also include a hormone surge. Many believe that these changes in the brain during pregnancy are necessary as the woman evolves into a parent so that she can better care for her child. However, a similar reduction in gray matter was not found in non-pregnant partners.
Now that there is evidence to explain the forgetful symptoms felt by so many pregnant women, the question of how to combat these changes arises. Although these changes in neural connection are inevitable we can make them easier to endure. Organization is the key. Keeping a daily calendar, setting alarms and notifications, using the note-taking app or jotting things in a notebook can help with the scatterbrain. Working out regularly can also sharpen your memory and allow for better sleep at night leading to more alertness the following day. It is not surprising that changes in the brain occur during pregnancy, however being informed and knowing why you are experiencing symptoms of forgetfulness can give you some much needed peace of mind.