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Are Pregnancy and Forgetfulness Really Connected?

“Pregnancy brain!”

Expectant mothers often swap tales of times they walked into a room to grab something and stood there wondering why they came. They forget where they parked their car, or leave their keys in the refrigerator. Sure, everyone has had those moments now and then, but they seem to occur more often during pregnancy. Why?

Changes in the brain?

One 2016 study indicates that pregnancy may change a woman’s brain structure, causing it to lose some gray matter (darker tissue in the brain that contains nerves and is involved in sensory perception). The theory is that this is a sign of development, not loss, because it allows the new mother to be more attuned to her infant’s needs, and strengthens their bond.

The changes can continue for about 2 years, which is important bonding time between mother and child.

Research has not made a connection between these structural changes and “pregnancy brain” or “momnesia,” but they have not ruled it out either. One neuroscientist and mother who looked at the study told Science magazine:

“There is all this anecdotal talk about pregnant women forgetting things, but that can occur in areas that don’t necessarily have anything to do with caring for our offspring. That’s what nature wants us to focus on. This paper shows that.”

Not enough sleep

The brain needs a good rest to stay sharp. Yet, according to one study, nearly 80% of pregnant women have problems sleeping. Frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom, general discomfort, heartburn and anxiety can keep an expectant mother awake at night.

Solutions may include cutting back on water late in the day, sleeping on your side and talking with your doctor about heartburn reduction. Click here to read more.

Acceptance and coping

The first rule of pregnancy brain: don’t beat yourself up over memory lapses!

It’s a perfectly normal part of pregnancy, and it will not last forever.

Laugh it off and do what you can to counteract the problem with some memory tricks:

  • Put commonly used items like your keys, purse and phone in the same place all the time.
  • Program alerts on your phone for appointments.
  • Keep a small notepad and write tasks down when you think of them, or track them in the notes app on your phone. Yes, that might even be the moment you walk out of one room to retrieve something from another room.

The second rule: Eliminate stress when possible.

  • Talk it out.
    You are not alone in worrying about becoming a new mom. Talk to other women about their pregnancy and motherhood experiences. Don’t worry about asking your doctor silly questions. The more you understand, the less anxiety you’ll have.
  • Ask for help.
    Chances are good that a spouse, friend, neighbor or family member will be happy to take on one of the items on your long to-do list.
  • Try mindfulness.
    Anxiety is all about what might happen. Mindfulness directs you to focus on the present, shedding unfounded fears. A recent study showed that expectant mothers had much success learning to calm their fears through mindfulness and meditation.

For other WellTuned articles on women’s health and pregnancy, click here.

Nancy Henderson

Nancy Henderson, a writer and editor originally from New York, moved to Nashville more than 25 years ago and considers herself more Tennessean than Yankee these days. She has written about health care and wellness for a variety of publications.

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WellTuned provides inspiration and practical advice for healthy living.
WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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