The current study is the first one to explore how pregnancy may affect other cognitive areas beyond memory and to look specifically at how these changes might vary according to pregnancy trimesters . The study findings were published in the Medical Journal of Australia
So-called "baby brain" refers to increased forgetfulness, inattention, and mental "fogginess" reported by four out of five pregnant women. These changes in brain function during pregnancy have long been recognized in midwifery folklore, but our new study has confirmed "baby brain" is a very real phenomenon, and several cognitive areas.
Researchers combined data from 20 studies reporting the relationship between pregnancy and brain changes. We then pooled these differences together to assess the cognitive functioning of 709 pregnant women and 521 non-pregnant women.
study results showed that when pregnant women are compared to non-pregnant women, they perform much worse on tasks measuring memory and executive functioning, and this difference is most pronounced during the third trimester . Women were tested with tasks such as the digit span test, which involves remembering digits in a line.
Researchers also found when the same women were tested at multiple points during their pregnancies, the decline appeared to start during the first trimester, then stabilize from the middle to the end of the pregnancy . But it is important to note that while we found differences, the pregnant women were still broadly performing in the normal range, albeit at the lower end, particularly for memory tasks.
So while some pregnant women may not feel as "sharp" as usual, these effects are realistically not likely to have any dramatic impact on everyday life. This presents a compelling idea that "baby brain" is actually an important adaptive phenomenon that might help women prepare for raising their children by allowing their brains to adapt to their new role as mothers.
Importantly, this same study showed losses of gray matter in the hippocampus, an area of ??the brain responsible for memory function, are restored two years after the birth of a child. This supports the idea cognitive declines are not permanent.
There are still several questions that will need to be answered so we can understand more about this phenomenon. First, postpartum measures of cognitive functioning are frequently not included when exploring cognition and pregnancy.
Second, the underlying mechanisms of this relationship are still open to speculation. Given women experience huge hormonal shifts during pregnancy, it's likely to increase in hormones oestrogen, progesterone and oxytocin play an important role in facilitating these cognitive changes.
Other factors may also contribute, such as disrupted sleep patterns , mood changes, increased stress levels, and morning sickness – all of which are natural experiences of pregnancy. After all, pregnancy is a time of massive physical, psychological, and social change, so it is not surprising that it is distracting.