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Is Pregnancy Brain Fog Real and How to Reduce It?

Pregnancy brain goes by many names, including "baby brain," "mommy brain," and "momnesia." All these terms refer to the forgetfulness and memory lapses many parents have reported during pregnancy. Let's discuss the symptoms and causes of pregnancy brain, strategies to combat brain fog, and when you may want to seek additional help.

Key takeaways:

Is "pregnancy brain" real?

"Pregnancy brain" describes the forgetfulness, memory lapses, and other cognitive deficits that 81% of expectant parents say have accompanied their pregnancies.

Limited research has supported impaired cognitive function during pregnancy. While deeper research would potentially lead to more substantial evidence, currently, pregnancy brain is not categorized as an official medical condition. The scientific and medical community cannot say, for sure, that it exists.

However, there is no doubt that many pregnant and postpartum parents can attest to struggling with absentmindedness, difficulty focusing, and memory recall.

Symptoms of pregnancy brain fog

You may be suffering from brain fog if you struggle with the following symptoms:

  • Memory lapses
  • Forgetfulness
  • Absentmindedness
  • Difficulty reading
  • Disorientation
  • Clumsiness
  • Trouble recalling
  • Inability to concentrate or focus

Causes of brain fog during pregnancy

Research has not pinpointed the exact cause of pregnancy brain fog, and results are mixed. Every person and every pregnancy is different as well. Some evidence suggests that the following factors during pregnancy can impact cognitive function or conscious mental activities.

Hormones

Pregnancy and postpartum are defined by drastic changes in estrogen and progesterone, hormones that have been shown to impact cognitive function.

Sleeping difficulties

Overall, 80% of pregnant persons have reported sleeping difficulties during pregnancy. Up to 98% of pregnant persons have reported nighttime awakening in the third trimester. Sleep disturbances or deprivation can lead to cognitive impairments.

Stress, anxiety, and mood disorders

Expecting a new little one can cause stress and anxiety as you dwell on all that needs to be done and the life changes a baby brings. These busy and possibly overwhelming thoughts can impact your ability to concentrate and focus.

Additionally, stress, anxiety, and mood disorders can lead to disturbances in cognitive function and poor sleep, and potentially increased severity of brain fog symptoms.

Brain changes

Studies have demonstrated that the female mammal brain undergoes significant changes during pregnancy and postpartum. These cellular changes occur all over the brain, including new brain cell formation and "rewiring" of neurons. Research has also shown that pregnancy reduces the amount of grey matter within the brain.

Scientists propose that this allows the pregnant parent to "rewire" their brain to meet the needs and essential tasks of parenthood and infant bonding. While the research is incredibly limited, a small study demonstrated that these brain changes may be permanent.

When does pregnancy brain start, and does it go away?

Most research indicates that pregnancy brain fog is the worst during the third trimester. Some studies have suggested that parents in the third trimester have decreased performance during cognitive testing. Other studies have not supported this claim. However, because there are many causes, brain fog can begin as early as the first trimester.

Generally, brain fog symptoms decrease following delivery. Within 48 hours of delivery, up to 80% of placental hormones are removed from the pregnant parent's circulation. Life with a newborn is undoubtedly accompanied by changing roles, sleep deprivation, and new parental stresses that may create a transition from "pregnancy brain" to "mommy brain."

For the most part, pregnancy brain is minor, manageable, and not clinically significant.

Strategies to reduce brain fog

You can also use all these strategies beyond pregnancy to combat any persistent "mommy brain" symptoms:

  • Keep a planner and calendar. Whether on paper or on your phone, a planner can keep you well-organized.
  • Schedule alarms and reminders. Set alerts for your most important tasks and to-do items.
  • Exercise. Physical activity has been shown to improve mental alertness and decrease stress.
  • Adequate nutrition. Nutrient-dense foods and hydration will help your body to function at its highest level.
  • Practice sleep hygiene. While this can be difficult during pregnancy and postpartum, healthy sleep practices, including the amount of time sleeping, are beneficial.
  • Decrease multitasking. Focus on one activity at a time.
  • Ask for help. Delegating tasks to your partner, family, or friends may help decrease your mental load.

When to seek professional help

The most significant symptoms related to brain fog should subside after delivery and as you settle into your role as a new parent or parent to multiple children. It is important to utilize the strategies above to reduce the impact of "momnesia."

However, do not hesitate to speak with your healthcare provider if you are concerned about the extent or severity of your memory loss. Additionally, if you feel your symptoms are related to postpartum depression, you must speak with your provider. Your provider can guide you to the right resources for further evaluation and treatment in both instances.

Experienced parents may tell you that "mommy brain" never goes away. The worst of your forgetfulness or inability to focus should subside after delivery. But, it is replaced with all of the emotional, physical, and mental "baggage" of parenthood that may make it feel like "mommy brain" lingers indefinitely.



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