Skip to content

Health & Pregnancy

Pregnancy Brain: Myth or Reality?

Relax, pregnancy does not change your brain. But it may affect how mentally sharp you feel.
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Feature

You may have heard about little bouts of forgetfulness during pregnancy. It's sometimes called momnesia or sometimes "pregnancy brain." At least one Australian studyhas cast doubt on whether there is such a thing as pregnancy brain.

But what if it's real? What can you do about it while you're pregnant?

 

Pregnancy Brain Is Real, but...

Pregnancy does not change a woman's brain even though some women don't feel as sharp as usual when they're pregnant. 

Helen Christensen, PhD, of The Australian National University, says, "If you read pregnancy manuals and listen to pregnant mothers -- yes, there is such a thing as pregnancy brain or momnesia. And there is also evidence from research showing deficits in memory."

But, she adds, "the evidence from our study shows that the capacity of the brain is unaltered in pregnancy."

What Causes “Momnesia?”

It’s 100% normal to have memory lapses or be forgetful when you’re busy, stressed, or short on sleep, Christenson says.

Jane Martin, MD, director of the Neuropsychological Testing and Evaluation Center at New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center, agrees. "When you are not getting enough sleep and are multitasking, nobody's memory is good," she says. "You are not cognitively sharp when you haven't slept well."

Surging hormone levels and new priorities may help explain why pregnancy brain happens.

"There is 15 to 40 times more progesterone and estrogen marinating the brain during pregnancy," Louann Brizendine, MD, director of the Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco, says. "And these hormones affect all kinds of neurons in the brain. By the time the woman delivers, there are huge surges of oxytocin that cause the uterus to contract and the body to produce milk -- and they also affect the brain circuits."

Pregnancy also shuffles what gets your attention. Your IQ doesn't change, but your priorities do.

"You only have so many shelves in your brain, so the top three are filled with baby stuff," Brizendine says.

Hormones may also affect spatial memory -- which includes remembering where things are -- in pregnant women and new moms, a British study shows.

Pregnancy Week-By-Week Newsletter

Delivered right to your inbox, get pictures and facts on
what to expect each week of your pregnancy.

Today on WebMD

hand circling date on calendar
Track your most fertile days.
woman looking at ultrasound
Week-by-week pregnancy guide.
 
Pretty pregnant woman timing contaction pains
The signs to watch out for.
pregnant woman in hospital
Are there ways to do it naturally?
 
slideshow fetal development
Slideshow
pregnancy first trimester warning signs
Article
 
What Causes Bipolar
Video
Woman trying on dress in store
Slideshow
 
pregnant woman
Article
Close up on eyes of baby breastfeeding
Video
 
healthtool pregnancy calendar
Tool
eddleman prepare your body pregnancy
Video