Is “Pregnancy Brain” Real? Study Finds Motherhood Will Literally Make You Lose Your Mind For The Best Reason

December 8, 2018  |  

pregnancy brain

Source: JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty

There was a time I could tell you the original third member of Immature as well as his birth date and astrological sign. Now I can’t remember the names to songs and frequently refer to musicians as, “The girl who is playing that high ponytail the hell out,” or “The weird guy from ATL whose song is at the beginning of Get Out”. Five years ago I would easily label myself as witty. My “That’s What She Said” jokes were perfectly timed and I could easily ramble off metaphors during casual conversation to vividly illustrate the story I was telling. But shortly after giving birth, it seemed like I traded my memory, problem-solving capability and critical thinking skills for a beautiful baby girl. It didn’t help that less than a year after I gave birth I started a new job in sexual reproductive health, a field I was fairly comfortable in but hadn’t worked in specifically for several years. Before I knew it, I felt like I was falling down a rabbit hole of preferred pronouns, reproductive justice terms and political correctness that felt overwhelming in addition to sometimes very basic information like the names of streets of grew up on while giving out directions or the names of my favorite restaurants. So when I learned that “pregnancy brain” was a real thing, I was somewhat relieved. Although I still often wonder: When will it end? My daughter is almost four-years-old and it seems like forgetfulness is becoming less than a fluctuation in hormones and more of a permanent personality trait.

While scientists work to figure out specifically why pregnancy makes you literally lose your mind and how long those symptoms actually last, what they have determined is that pregnancy turns on a switch in most women that forces them to reserve their mental, emotional and physical energy to their newly arrived offspring. In other words you may not be able to remember if you wore your burgundy sweater to work this past Monday or two weeks ago, but you will remember that your child last dose of baby aspirin occurred specifically 3 hours, 13 minutes and 9 seconds ago, that she gets acid reflux from mashed carrots and only pooped 2.5 times in the last 23 hours.

According to a new study performed by researchers at The University of Toronto the anxiety, forgetfulness, and emotional changes many women experience post pregnancy may be due to the fact that the brain looks and functions very differently post-pregnancy. It’s all because your body in many ways will work against you all in an effort to keep your child alive and thriving.

The study, published in the journal Child Development, analyzed data on 39 pregnant women between ages 22 and 39 from the Toronto area. The study asked for these women to visit labs in their third trimester for a series of tests and then again three to five months after giving birth. During the visits the women wore a cap that measures brain activity while being shown 40 images of happy infants and children. During each visit they were asked to report if they had any feelings of anxiety and during the second visit they were asked about the bonds with their newborn babies. When comparing the changes in the cerebral context (the part of the brain that processes information) at two different points, scientists discovered there was much more activity in this part of the brain in response to images of infants. They also discovered women who had more brain activity reported stronger bonds with their babies. In other words, if you’re losing your keys and leaving the remote in the refrigerator, you’re probably using that extra brain power to focus on your baby. David Haley, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto who led the study shared the brain changes as a direct response to the new role of motherhood:

“Our findings support the idea that, in the brain, responses to infants’ cues change over the course of pregnancy and early motherhood, with some mothers showing more marked changes than others.”

“This variation in turn is associated with mothers’ reports of their emotional bonds with their babies.”

In addition to motherhood literally changing your brain, you can also add in the sleep deprivation that I’m still experiencing from a pre-schooler who acts like she’s allergic to bedtime routines.  There’s also the fact it’s still a very rare occasion that I can watch a show, take a shower or eat a hot meal without my offspring requesting fruit snacks, having a full blown meltdown over not being able to drink water out of the dog’s bowl or calling “Mommy” just because she likes the way the word feels coming off her tongue. Parenting will turn your attention span into its own personal b**ch as you come to the realization that you may just never be able to fully focus on any one activity at a time ever again.

So as I ramble off  my husband’s name and sometimes even the dog’s name for extra forgetful flavor before I finally call out my child’s name correctly to tell her to put my “damn Christmas ornaments” back on the tree, I have to remind myself the memory lapses may just be happening because I’m killing this thing called motherhood. I may not remember the words to “The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air” theme song, but at least my child is fed, even if the remote is next to the orange juice.  

Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about  everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.

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