- Pregnancy brain is a real phenomenon where women experience a brain fog, trouble focusing or remembering certain things.
- Also known as “mommy brain,” it usually starts in the first trimester and subsides after giving birth.
- There are easy steps to take to manage and combat pregnancy brain.
You may have come across the term “pregnancy brain” but aren’t completely sure what it means or how it’s caused. With all of the hormonal changes a woman’s body undergoes throughout her pregnancy, it’s challenging to know exactly what’s going on, especially when it comes to something as complex and mysterious as the brain. Here’s a rundown on everything you need to know and tips on how to deal with this phenomenon.
What is pregnancy brain?
Despite what some people may think, one thing is for certain: pregnancy brain is real, and not all in your head (in a manner of speaking...) It’s a researched and documented occurrence that many women experience, so you’re not alone if you’re feeling it.
Pregnancy brain is sometimes called “brain fog” or “mommy brain.” Some mothers describe feelings of forgetfulness, an inability to multi-task, or even difficulty staying focused on a conversation for a long period of time. Your abilities to focus, remember or multitask before you were pregnant seem to have no bearing on whether you experience brain fog.
When does pregnancy brain start? What are other symptoms of pregnancy brain?
Women describe the occurrence of the above symptoms as early as their first trimester. This is when hormones begin to fluctuate, and often feelings of frustration aren’t far behind. Symptoms of forgetfulness are also often associated with pregnancy brain.
You might experience forgetting your phone number, where you put your keys after recently setting them down somewhere, or facts that were once easily recalled. Of course, while common, not all mothers are the same and these experiences exist on a spectrum. Not all pregnant women necessarily experience brain fog, and some might find that they experience a noticeable difference in what would be considered normal function.
What causes pregnancy brain?
There are mixed findings when it comes to the cause pregnancy brain. The bodily changes a pregnant woman experiences are much more noticeable than the chemical changes occurring in the brain. It’s easy for people to notice physical changes in weight with a growing belly, fatigue, or even morning sickness—yet the brain can be a complicated thing to observe.
While there is room for more research on this particular topic, neuroscientists have found that the structure and function of a woman’s brain does indeed change throughout pregnancy. Other studies have shown that the gray matter in women’s brains shrinks during pregnancy to make room for more efficient connections and brain circuits. These particular areas allow for enhanced social cognition and “caregiving behaviors,” which would allow mothers to tend to their children’s needs more efficiently.
While the thought of your gray matter shrinking might sound alarming at first, a “tightening” of these connections might actually improve your ability to understand what cues your baby is giving you. So, your mind may just be getting more efficient, you brainiac!
Why does pregnancy brain happen?
Scientists have yet to arrive at a definitive conclusion on why some women may experience these symptoms, but there are a few hypotheses. From an evolutionary standpoint, scientists suggest that a pregnant woman may suffer memory loss in order to forget smaller details and spend more time focused on caring for her baby.
Others believe that this fogginess can simply be attributed to a lack of sleep during your first trimester as you adjust to changes in your body. It makes sense that your memory would suffer if you’re not getting enough rest, and the reduction in caffeine consumption that future moms do during pregnancy certainly doesn’t help with managing alertness and staving off grogginess.
Additionally, your attention might be diverted to becoming a mom, or you may be focusing more on your body and the new physical changes going on. So, it may be that your brain power is being allocated to your new state, and therefore mental bandwidth is being tapped from elsewhere. With everything going on in pregnancy, you may just have more to focus on, and so it’s easier for things to slip your mind!
How can you combat pregnancy brain?
First, remember that being a little forgetful sometimes is totally normal. A woman’s hormones change significantly throughout pregnancy, and this is to be expected. So do your best to not be too hard on yourself (easier said than done!)
You can tackle pregnancy brain symptoms in two ways. The first is to set your brain up for success by encouraging states of alertness. This will help your brain fire on all cylinders and prevent mental fog or forgetfulness in the first place. The other way is to implement lifestyle changes or habits to help you remember tasks and combat fogginess. Tackling mommy brain from all sides is your best bet to help circumvent any frustration associated with pregnancy brain.
10 ways to reduce pregnancy brain
To help you feel a bit more on top of things, try out these 10 tips:
- Get a planner: Carry around a planner or a pen and paper you can use to write things down. Use it as a reference on days where things feel a bit foggier than usual. The act of physically writing things down engages more parts of your brain (compared to taking a mental note), so that occupies more neurons to cement mental pathways.
- Phone reminders: In this day and age, our phones are almost always with us, so if you’re forgetting to write things down—or check the reminders you’ve already written down—why not get your smartphone to do some of the heavy lifting? Using your digital assistant or setting calendar reminders by voice can sometimes be effective, as you can set your phone to vibrate, flash, or even say your reminder aloud.
- Rest: Schedule enough time to sleep at night. Rest is a crucial part of feeling refreshed and directly affects your ability to think clearly. Do your best to revamp your sleep hygiene, kick the afternoon caffeine, and be mindful of how much screen time you get in the two hours before bedtime. These incremental changes can make a big difference in how heavily you catch your Z’s.
- Eat foods high in DHA and Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Nutrient-rich foods, especially foods rich in DHA are all great for your memory. Opt for foods such as salmon, eggs, walnuts and cranberries to help boost brain health. There are other nutrition tips you can follow, and recipes to try for you and your baby during pregnancy. It’s been documented that taking prenatal vitamins can help as well.
- Exercise: It’s time to get a move on! Exercise helps stimulate blood flow and circulation, which helps get more oxygen to your noggin. Avoid feelings of sluggishness by doing some light exercise during pregnancy. It’s proven that it can help combat pregnancy brain as well as help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce stress, and help reduce recovery time after delivery.
- Fresh air: Getting a breath of fresh air can help clear your mind of cluttered thoughts, as well as make you feel more alert. Heading outside or leaving our usual surroundings can cause your brain to focus on new stimuli, which also increases alertness. Even opening a window for a breath of fresh air can cause a temperate change against your skin, which in itself will alert your brain to new sensations.
- Drink cold water: Staying hydrated can help with your concentration and helps curb headaches, nausea and more. But did you ever consider that your choice of beverage temperature can have an effect? In the same way that drinking warm (caffeine-free) beverages can help relax you and cause drowsiness, drinking ice water can help keep you more alert. Here’s the science behind it: low temperatures cause you to constrict blood vessels to conserve body heat. As such, you’ll have the same amount of blood traveling through your system through a narrower network of veins. This causes a minuscule increase in blood pressure (nothing to be alarmed about!) which in turn, pushes more blood to your brain.
- Speak out loud: It may seem or feel odd to announce tasks or reminders aloud, but sometimes saying (and hearing) these things can help increase the likelihood for retention, compared to keeping thoughts in your head. Incorporating as many mental functions and faculties as possible can help cement reminders into your brain. For example, when you walk in the house, announce “I’m putting my keys in my right jacket pocket,” or if you’re falling behind on your correspondence, say “I need to reply to that email after lunch” aloud. It’s certainly worth a try, so don’t be afraid to speak up!
- Meditate: Meditation has been proven to increase mental functioning (and reduce stress, another culprit of mommy brain). Meditation can sometimes seem hard or even intimidating; however, with any new skill, practice makes perfect. Here are some top meditation tips:
- Seek out apps or videos if you’re looking for a guided meditation experience. Following guided meditations are often considered the easiest for beginners.
- It’s the little things that count. Even taking a short minute to concentrate on your breathing, observe your thoughts, or focus on physical sensations of your body counts as meditation.
- Try transforming daily tasks into mindful moments. While washing dishes, focus on the bubbles or feeling of the water, or focus on the smell and taste of your toothpaste as you brush your teeth. You’ll be on your way to enlightenment in no time at all!
- Novel experiences: When you incorporate new experiences, foods, or even learn something new, your brain increases its functioning. This ability to create new pathways and neural connections is called neuroplasticity. One great way to boost neuroplasticity is by having new experiences. These changes don’t have to be big, or even disruptive to your daily life.
- Tip: Small changes, such as walking a new route, trying a new food, or learning new things (how about a new dance, or a simple card trick?) can make a difference. At the very least, all these new experiences will keep life interesting!
All things considered, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone if you’re experiencing mental fog while pregnant. And while frustrating, there are actions you can take to feel more in control of these changes, like getting more exercise, improving sleep hygiene and taking prenatal vitamins to boost brain health. Rest assured that these symptoms usually subside after giving birth, and it’s just a phenomenon of the exciting experience of pregnancy.