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Understanding “Pregnancy Brain” And What You Can Do About It

Forgetfulness, clumsiness, not being able to stay focused like you used to—if you’re expecting you’re probably experiencing the infamous “pregnancy brain.” Most women are told about morning sickness and fatigue during pregnancy, but what’s going on with your brain?

Pregnancy brain is a common phenomenon many expecting mothers encounter, but usually aren’t fully prepared for. If you’re misplacing your keys or forgetting plans, just know you’re going through something very normal. But what exactly causes these cognitive changes and how can you reduce these little brain blips? Keep reading for the full scoop on pregnancy brain.

What Is Pregnancy Brain?

Pregnancy brain is a type of brain fog or head cloudiness that expecting women experience.  Things like forgetfulness, poor concentration, and memory problems are very normal during this time. It’s not uncommon for pregnant women to find themselves struggling to complete simple tasks or misplacing everyday items.

According to Thaïs Aliabadi, MD, a board-certified OB-GYN, the following are pregnancy brain fog symptoms:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Memory Lapses
  • Poor Concentration
  • Absentmindedness
  • Clumsiness

While these symptoms can seem concerning to newly expecting moms, it’s important to note that brain fog is a normal part of the pregnancy journey and usually isn’t a sign of long-term cognitive decline.

Causes of Pregnancy Brain 

Firstly, doctors can’t pinpoint just one thing that causes brain fog in pregnancy. But several factors in play can contribute to pregnancy brain. Let’s take a look at each.

  • Sleep deprivation. A key factor contributing to pregnancy brain fog. As expectant mothers experience physical discomfort, new body changes, and increased trips to the bathroom during the night, it becomes challenging to achieve quality sleep. The lack of adequate rest can lead to difficulties with memory recall and overall mental clarity.
  • Hormonal changes. During pregnancy, blood flow and hormones such as estrogen and progesterone increase dramatically, which impact neurons in the brain. With drastic hormone fluctuations like this happening rapidly, cognitive function will be disrupted.
  • Changes in the brain. Studies have shown that there are structural alterations in certain areas of the brain during pregnancy that affect memory and cognitive processing. Essentially, pregnant women experience a decrease in brain grey matter, a noticeable size increase in hypothalamus neurons, and a smaller amygdala. These changes may be attributed to the body’s preparation for motherhood and adaptation to new responsibilities—ultimately causing symptoms of brain fog.
  • Anxiety and stress. Stress levels tend to be higher during pregnancy due to many factors such as hormonal imbalances or overwhelming concerns about health, childbirth, and parenting. These emotional states can further exacerbate cognitive challenges by diverting attention away from day-to-day tasks making it harder to focus.

When does pregnancy brain start?

While pregnancy brain can happen at any point during pregnancy, it typically starts during the first trimester at week 5 and seems to fully set in by the third trimester at week 31. It will most likely continue throughout your entire pregnancy.

Does Pregnancy Brain Go Away?

The good news is yes, in most cases, pregnancy brain will eventually resolve and go away on its own. While it’s different for each mom, brain fog typically lasts two to four months postpartum as your body begins to transition back to its pre-pregnancy state. 

It’s important to note that factors such as sleep deprivation and the demands of caring for a newborn can also impact how quickly brain fog will clear up for postpartum women. Taking care of yourself is key to bouncing back quicker. But new moms know that’s easier said than done and can fall into patterns that cloud your brain further. Do small things for yourself when you can and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

How To Reduce Pregnancy Brain Symptoms

Ah, time for some relief. You’ll be happy to know there are certain strategies you can use to reduce pregnancy brain fog and make your days a little smoother. Doctors at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center suggest the following tips for managing brain fog when pregnant.

Make lists

One effective approach is to utilize lists. Writing down important tasks and reminders as they come up can help alleviate the struggle of trying to remember everything later. By having a visual reference, you can prioritize your responsibilities and help ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

Get as much sleep as you can

Getting enough rest is critical to combating pregnancy brain. If you’re finding yourself tossing and turning at night and still waking up tired, try adding naps into your day. This extra sleep can help you catch up on the snooze time you missed the night before–leaving your brain feeling more refreshed.

Find ways to make your life easier

Simplifying your life is another valuable tactic to minimize the impact of pregnancy brain. Try things like streamlining daily routines, delegating tasks, and taking a break from things on your plate. Once you simplify your life, you’ll find it easier to navigate through the days. 

Ask for help

It’s important to recognize that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but rather an essential part of self-care during pregnancy. Reach out to loved ones for a helping hand with things like bringing in groceries, walking the dog, or mowing the lawn. By sharing the load, you’ll alleviate stress and allow yourself more mental space to focus on what’s in front of you–or rather the bundle of joy growing inside.

Don’t worry

Stress makes your memory (and pretty much everything else) worse. That’s why reducing anxiety and stress levels is critical in managing pregnancy brain symptoms effectively. Engage in activities that promote relaxation such as prenatal yoga, meditation, or a nice warm bubble bath. Find and prioritize self-care practices that bring you peace and tranquility and be sure to practice them consistently. When you need help, ask for it—so you can have a little more time to yourself. 

When To See A Doctor

While it’s normal to experience forgetfulness and poor concentration during pregnancy, certain signs should not be ignored. Reach out to your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Constantly struggling to concentrate
  • Feelings of sadness
  • Feeling withdrawn from your surroundings
  • Increased anxiety
  • Complete or short-term memory loss

At the end of the day, if any symptoms are seriously affecting daily functions, reach out to your provider. They can take a look at what’s going on and address your concerns personally. 

While it may feel overwhelming at times, it’s important to remember that pregnancy brain is temporary and usually goes away soon after childbirth. Utilizing tools and support systems like making lists, taking naps, and asking for help when you need it can help reduce those pesky symptoms of pregnancy brain. Despite this temporary cognitive change, it is possible to manage it more easily.