You’ve likely heard the term “pregnancy brain” used by self-deprecating mothers-to-be when they aren’t feeling or behaving up to their usual cognitive snuff. Some pregnant women say they often forget things easily, are less attentive than normal, and just don’t seem like themselves. But does so-called pregnancy brain manifest itself in measurable cognitive loss?
Myra Wick, MD., Ph.D., at the Mayo Clinic says studies attempting to relate pregnancy with cognitive decline have produced conflicting results. She says, “There isn’t enough information to support the existence of baby brain or pregnancy brain.” She goes on to say that because the concept of pregnancy brain is so widely accepted, new mothers are more aware of cognitive slips, and therefore might believe that they are having trouble thinking. She advises new mothers to not assume that this is true.
Laura Glynn, Psychology Professor at Chapman University, offers a different view. She believes that pregnancy brain may have many cognitive upsides––maternal enhancements that are wired to adapt to the many rapidly evolving physiological and emotional changes. Areas of the brain associated with important characteristics such as decision making and motivation are possibly given a boost.
Although our understanding is still in early stages, Glynn says early data suggests that human pregnancy initiates neural restructuring, and that the neuroplasticity that occurs during pregnancy is key to a woman’s ability to adapt to her new reality––in other words, to be a good mom.
Another study from a few years back, conducted by scientists from Royal Holloway, University of London in the United Kingdom, suggests that pregnant women experience increased right-side brain activity as they prepared to bond with their newborn child. The brain could be physically changing. Yet another study suggests that women lose between 2 and 8 percent of the brain volume during pregnancy, but quickly get it back once the baby is born.
So, is pregnancy brain a real thing? And if so, are there both positive and negative aspects to the phenomenon? As Dr. Wick from the Mayo Clinic stressed, there are conflicting results about the cognitive effects for pregnant women. Perhaps the only thing that is clear is the need for continued exploration.
Articles referenced in this blog: