Is there such a thing as ‘pregnancy brain’?


When a study was published this month by a group of Spanish researchers on the impact of pregnancy on a woman’s brain, there were alarmist headlines everywhere. Various media reports made it sound as if pregnancy made women stupid since the study, published in the medical journal Nature Neuroscience, indicated that the amount of grey matter in a pregnant woman’s brain diminished during pregnancy and for up to two years after.

Pregnancy brain has been talked about for decades. Women frequently report feeling forgetful and unfocused during pregnancy. I was asked to write about it a few years ago and did a literature search. I found that there is not actually much scientific proof that women have decreased mental functioning during pregnancy. There was some data which showed that it might occur somewhat in the third trimester but the evidence was not compelling. However, I did find that in England, it is called porridge brain, which amused me.

Is ‘pregnancy brain’ a bonding tool? 

So this new study got a lot of attention, but the conclusions drawn by many reporters focused on the headline, and not the content of the study. In fact, the study did show that there was decreased grey matter in pregnant women. But it also showed that there were no significant changes in a woman’s thinking or memory. The authors concluded that the changes were oriented toward social changes, to allow a woman to bond more closely with her baby. Interestingly, the partners of the women also had the same assessments of their brains and they did not show any changes during or after pregnancy. So it is not the psychological aspects of impending parenthood which changed the women’s brains, it was the impact of the pregnancy itself.

So what does this mean for you? It means that every part of your body is impacted by your pregnancy, even your brain. But it doesn’t make you stupid, forgetful, or unreasonable. It simply means that your brain is changing in ways that make it easier for you to make the sacrifices you need to make as a new mom. And more importantly, it is making the changes it needs to make so that you develop an incredibly strong attachment to your baby.

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