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"Baby brain"? The truth about forgetfulness in pregnancy

Feeling absentminded? It could be your “baby brain” at work during pregnancy. But is there really any science behind it?


Posted: 24 March 2011
by Elaine Marks

forgetful woman with pregnancy brain
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Been uncharacteristically forgetful lately? Well rest assured it’s just another thing you can chalk down to pregnancy. Though scientific evidence is scant, there's plenty of other mums who'll swear to the phenomenon. And some studies have shown that mums-to-be, particularly in the third trimester of pregnancy really are having trouble with their short-term memory. But don’t panic, it’s only temporary!

What causes “pregnancy brain”?

Pregnancy brain, nappy brain, mumnesia – whatever you like to call it – is still not very well researched. But many experts do believe it exists and have some theories about what causes it.

Hormones

Yep, it’s those pesky pregnancy hormones causing mischief again.It's been suggested that the high levels of the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone in pregnant women's bodies can have a negative effect on parts of the brain such as the hippocampus, that are involved in spatial memory (i.e. where you put your car keys).

Brain shrinkage

Yes you did read that right. Research has found that in pregnancy, mum-to-be’s brains can shrink by anywhere between 3% and 8%. It usually happens in the last three months of pregnancy so you may find yourself forgetting where you’ve parked the car or putting ice cream in the oven as birth creeps ever closer. Rest assured though, it goes back to its original size soon after birth and another study reckons you’ll be cleverer than ever before!).

Anaemia

From about week 12, your baby is scoffing a huge amount of your iron to grow big and strong so you need to be making more red blood cells than usual. To do this your body uses vitamins including B12, folic acid and particularly iron. So if you're not getting enough of any of these, or are prone to anaemia, you could develop the condition. It can cause tiredness and memory problems and makes you appear pale and suffer from headaches. Find out more about the treatment for anaemia in pregnancy.

Trouble sleeping, distractions and excitement

Pregnancy can change your sleep patterns and prevent you getting a good night's kip, which may contribute to the way your brain works (or doesn’t). Just like anyone else, if you’re not getting enough sleep, you're unlikely to be firing on all cylinders. Add to this the excitement of your impending motherhood and the usual worries about birth and life with a new baby, and you’ve a recipe for putting shoes in the fridge.

What can you do about “pregnancy brain”?

  • Write things down. It’s an oft-repeated suggestion but it could be the only way you'll remember to take your folic acid. If it’s important, write yourself a note to remember it.
  • Get your partner, friends and family to pick up the slack. You may be used to knowing everyone’s schedules better than they do but now is your partner’s time to shine (and take on the responsibility of keeping an eye out for your car keys).
  • Eat well, take gentle exercise and take your pregnancy vitamins. But if you’re tempted by any other supplements that promise to boost memory, most aren’t safe in pregnancy so do talk to your GP first.

And don't forget, it’s not just you! We asked our ThinkBaby Facebook fans for their best “baby brain” moments:

“I regularly put the cereal in the fridge and the milk in the cupboard!” says TB member Gemma P. While Claire D remembers, “forgetting the names for simple things like spoons”!

But perhaps the best admission we’ve heard is Rachael B’s, “I went to work in odd shoes, different heel height and everything and didn't notice until gone midday!”.

And while your brain should get back to normal pretty soon after birth, it’ll only be to enter into the most sleep-deprived, new and exciting time of your life – being a new mum. So if you’re still a tad distracted after the birth, it's hardly surprising!

“I got the toddler bags and buggy out of my friend’s car, went into the house and she calmly asked, “forgot anything”? Yep, the baby! She was four months old,” laughed Laura H.

What’s the funniest thing you've with your nappy hat on? Add your best moments below!


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