A woman sitting on a couch, looking distressed with her hands on her head.

Understanding Pregnancy Brain

Misplaced your car keys, only to find them later in the freezer? Left the house wearing mismatched shoes, or with your pants on backward? Join the club, we’ve all been there!

What is Pregnancy Brain?

Pregnancy brain, also known as momnesia or pregnancy fog is a mental state experienced by many expecting moms. Common symptoms include absentmindedness, forgetfulness, lack of focus, and being mentally, “out to lunch”, and expectant mothers often notice these symptoms at various stages of their pregnancy.

Momnesia may have you feeling like a space case—a little less sharp and a little more forgetful. But, you’re not alone!

Causes of Pregnancy Brain

Without a doubt, pregnancy changes women, not just physically, but also mentally. Understanding the changes that may contribute to pregnancy brain symptoms and momnesia will help you better cope with the fog.

  • Change in hormones: Increased levels of estrogen and progesterone while pregnant not only help your body prepare for a baby but may also affect neural activity such as memory. Such hormonal changes will continue to rise as a pregnancy progresses, often resulting in frequent lapses in memory or “momnesia.”
  • Lack of sleep: In general, sleep deprivation affects cognitive function in two areas—the ability to focus and memory consolidation. Sleep is necessary to function effectively and efficiently in both areas, and for pregnant women, trouble sleeping can start as early as the first trimester. Common sleep disturbances include cramping, anxiety, hunger, and frequent trips to the bathroom, all of which can make sleeping quite difficult.
  • Mental and emotional preparation: As your body changes during pregnancy, so too does your mind. With a baby on the way, expectant mothers may find themselves overwhelmed with emotion—often due to a rise in hormones as well as an increase in neural activity associated with emotional skills. A shift in priorities is also common and natural; so don’t be too hard on yourself if your brain feels like mush.
  • Possible depression: Crying spells and weepiness are likely due to fluctuating hormones; however, excessive crying and chronic feelings of sadness may be a symptom of depression. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), 14-23% of women will experience symptoms of depression during pregnancy. Thankfully, there are plenty of online resources to turn to if you believe you may be experiencing baby blues, including:
    • MotherToBaby: MotherToBaby offers evidence-based information to mothers about medications and other exposures during and after pregnancy.
    • MotherWoman: MotherWoman supports and empowers mothers to create personal and social change by building community safety nets, impacting family policy and promoting the leadership and resilience of mothers.
A pregnant woman holding a pen and writing on a brown paper.

Simple Tips to Overcome Pregnancy Brain

A handful of tips and tricks to help manage pregnancy brain:

  • Write stuff down! Making lists, setting reminders, and keeping a daybook to jot down and check off daily tasks can help you maintain your composure and keep you on schedule.
  • Brain food! Foods that are rich in vitamins B6, E, and C, as well as folate and zinc, when does pregnancy brain start? Foods such as eggs, blueberries, and dark, leafy greens like kale and spinach, as well as green tea, turmeric, walnuts, and omega-3 fats will help keep your mind sharp!
  • Stay active! Regular exercise during pregnancy will not only benefit your body and baby but also your mind. Researchers from the University of British Columbia found aerobic exercise boosts your hippocampus, the area related to memory and learning. Exercise is also known to relieve and keep stress at bay.
  • Quality sleep! To help alleviate frequent trips to the bathroom throughout the night, drink more fluids early in the day and less in the evening. Taking short naps earlier in the day will also keep you alert, sharpen your memory, and reduce pregnancy fatigue. Avoid exercise three to four hours before you turn in so your body has time to relax. Likewise, meditation and deep breathing exercises will help relax your body and mind, hopefully lulling you into a deep sleep.

Pregnancy and Brain Shrinkage

Not all changes during pregnancy are visible—the brain actually gets smaller in size due to a reduction of gray matter. But there’s good news! A decrease in volume does not equate to a loss of function.

Gray matter affects social cognition, involving processing and responding to social signals, as well as the ability to exhibit empathy and create emotional attachments. While a shrinking brain may sound worrisome, a new study by Nature Neuroscience[6] notes an increase in brain efficiency, enabling expectant mothers to interpret the needs and emotions of their babies, creating an instinctive maternal attachment and bond.

Lastly, don’t forget that momnesia and pregnancy brain shrinkage won’t last forever! The fog will lift and gray matter will return once your baby is born.


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