Pregnancy Brain: Is it Real or a Myth?

Mechanicsville OB/GYN Dr. Rachel Kreis, of Virginia Women’s Center discusses the experience of “pregnancy brain”: What it feels like, why it occurs and how expectant moms can cope.

You keep losing track of your keys. You forget that one important thing you wanted to buy at the store. You open the fridge and stare at the shelves, unable to remember what you wanted, or you struggle to find the word for… water.

Feeling strangely absent-minded during pregnancy? You’re not the only one — and you’re not imagining your symptoms. “Pregnancy brain” usually manifests as a feeling of easy forgetfulness, difficulty focusing, or lapses in short-term memory, explains Dr. Rachel N. Kreis, an OB/GYN who practices at Virginia Women’s Center’s Mechanicsville location.

Is it normal to experience pregnancy brain?

Yes, Dr. Kreis tells moms-to-be. “Fifty to 80 percent of patients report feeling like this,” she says, “but not that many patients bring it up at doctor visits, so their concerns are likely going unaddressed.” If you’re concerned about symptoms (or your spouse/partner is!), talk to your VWC doctor.

What causes pregnancy brain?

The condition may be caused by a combination of factors, Dr. Kreis says: stress, lack of sleep, changes in hormone levels (estrogen, progesterone, oxytocin), and the mental shift toward preparing for baby’s arrival.

Some research suggests that pregnancy causes long-term changes in the brain that improve emotional intelligence, better preparing moms for parenting. “The structural renovations wrought by pregnancy appear to overlap almost perfectly with the brain regions that play a key role in how we understand and interpret the actions, intentions and feelings of others,” the L.A. Times reports.

Does pregnancy brain affect intelligence? 

No! It’s important to know that there is no decrease in actual cognitive ability or IQ associated with pregnancy. “If a patient is asked to take a test, she likely will do just as well as if she’s not pregnant,” Dr. Kreis explains.

How can mothers-to-be deal with pregnancy brain? 

 Dr. Kreis recommends some simple coping strategies:

  • Write things down, and keep a detailed calendar or day planner.
  • Simplify your daily routines, and make them consistent.
  • Get organized! Try to make a habit of putting things back in the same place every time. (This will also help you deal with the chaos a newborn introduces to the household.)
  • Get more sleep and exercise.
  • Ask for help from family and friends. This is a good habit to practice in pregnancy, as you’ll need support once baby arrives.

How long does pregnancy brain last? 

The structural changes in the brain of a first-time mom may remain for at least two years after birth, recent research suggests. Symptoms should improve after delivery, but may last longer if stressors and lack of sleep persist.

If you experience significant difficulty focusing after childbirth, and also feel overwhelmed or sad, it could be depression rather than just pregnancy brain, Dr. Kreis says. That’s why it’s important to discuss any symptoms or concerns you feel with your doctor. The providers at Virginia Women’s Center can help if you’re struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety, or stress. Searching for compassionate women’s healthcare in Richmond? Schedule an appointment by calling 804.288.4084.