Momnesia – Real or Not?
Ask any woman who has been pregnant, or is pregnant at this time, if she has experienced the phenomena called “pregnancy brain” or “momnesia” and she’ll likely tell you she has. Best described by citing various occurrences that make them laugh telling the story but caused concern when it happened, you may hear women say things like:
· Couldn’t find my car in the parking lot (only to recall that she’s in the wrong parking lot)
· Totally forgot where I put the keys
· Waited for an hour to pick someone up at the wrong entrance to the mall
· Turned down the wrong street when driving home
· Forgetting to shave the other leg
There are as many stories as there are women to tell them. However, the question is this: Does pregnancy really cause brain inadequacy?
Not So Sharp These Days
According to Helen Christensen, PhD, of the Australian National University, “If you read pregnancy manuals and listen to pregnant mothers – yes, there is such a thing as pregnancy brain or momnesia, and there is also evidence from research showing deficits in memory,” but, “the evidence from our study shows that the capacity of the brain is unaltered in pregnancy.”
What this statement translates into is a woman may not be as on top of things as she was before she got pregnant, but her brain is still functioning properly.
There have been several studies in recent years to determine if pregnancy brain really does exist, especially since many baby guidebooks tell women there is a good possibility of short-term memory issues with pregnancy. Although differences do exist between pregnant and non-pregnant women, they tend to be a lesser degree than what is perceived by the woman herself. Dr. Chistensen suggests that perhaps women have been influenced by societal stereotyping that suggests forgetfulness and absentmindedness are normal during pregnancy.
Oh, But Those Hormones Kick Up a Fuss
However, there are physiological and chemical changes in the body and brain of a pregnant woman that can play out in ways that confirm momnesia and pregnancy brain. One event is lack of adequate rest and disturbed sleep. If a woman is sleep deprived and multitasking at the same time the likelihood of forgetting something is pretty good. As a matter of fact, the same thing will probably happen to a woman who isn’t pregnant. Few people are cognitively sharp when they haven’t had adequate, restful sleep.
Tests done on the hormone levels of pregnant women show that the levels of estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, prolactin and other pregnancy hormones were anywhere from 15 to 40 times higher during pregnancy than normal. These sex hormones have an effect upon the neurons in the brain, usually affecting mood and memory. A study done in Manchester, England in 2010 found a distinct difference in the second and especially the third trimester of pregnancy relative to mood, especially depression and anxiety. Spatial recognition, that part of the memory that helps you remember where you put the keys or parked the car, was also reduced in women, particularly at the end of the pregnancy. By the time the woman gets into the delivery room she will experience a massive surge of oxytocin the hormone for contractions to birth the baby and the production of milk to feed the baby. This, on top of already high levels of hormones has an effect on the brain.
Baby on the Brain
When a woman has her pregnancy and a new baby on the brain, there really isn’t room for much else. One realistic explanation is that the IQ doesn’t change, but priorities do. Usually everything is back to normal by the time the baby is around three months old. One of the reasons it carries on for several months after the baby is born is due to the accumulated sleep deficit that naturally accompanies having a baby. Focusing on the baby’s needs is about all most new mothers can manage at the beginning. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the brain – it is the body’s way of dealing with hormonal overload and sleep deprivation.
Are you pregnant? Do you wonder about pregnancy symptoms and whether what you are experiencing is an indication that you may be pregnant? Check out the article on Pregnancy Symptoms here.