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Just How Real Is 'Pregnancy Brain'?

Researchers Find No Evidence That Pregnant Women Have Memory Lapses Known as 'Momnesia'
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 5, 2010 -- Pregnancy and motherhood don't cause women to have memory lapses and other cognitive problems, even though the concept of ''pregnancy brain'' and ''momnesia'' are widely accepted, according to a new Australian study.

''When focused on a task, women who are pregnant or new mothers do not have 'cognitive deficits,' and perform as well as their non-pregnant contemporaries," says the study's lead author Helen Christensen, PhD, a researcher at The Australian National University in Canberra. Her study is published in The British Journal of Psychiatry.

''Women may have memory lapses, and change their focus to children and upcoming birth," she tells WebMD in an email interview. "This does not mean they have lost their capacities."

Many pregnancy guidebooks advise women about the possibility of short-term memory problems during pregnancy, Christensen writes, and some studies done with pregnant women have even supported the idea of ''pregnancy brain.''

But in her research, she found that animal studies were at odds with the human studies. Some researchers even found better learning and memory during pregnancy in their animal studies.

''This suggested to us that the effect of pregnancy or motherhood on cognitive abilities may not have been adequately tested," she writes in the journal. Major flaws in the human research, she states, are a lack of memory testing before the pregnancy occurs in order to get a baseline, a sample size that is too small, and lack of a follow-up period.

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