Pregnancy Brain: Does It Exist?

pregnant woman with post-its on her bellyAfter a forgetful moment, you may hear a pregnant woman say, "Oh, it must be pregnancy brain." Or perhaps you've said that yourself recently. And you may be wondering, is pregnancy brain real?

While the bodily changes that occur during pregnancy are obvious, there are also some subtle mental changes that may be related to pregnancy.

The term "pregnancy brain" refers to the forgetfulness that women sometimes experience when they're expecting. While evidence of this condition is largely anecdotal, there is reason to believe that the stress of pregnancy can affect cognition.

Why you may experience pregnancy brain

The most obvious reason why you might be forgetting simple things—like the best route home from the grocery store or your partner's birthday—is because you're simply too tired or preoccupied getting ready for your new baby, which can get pretty distracting.

Additionally, the surging levels of progesterone in your body may be causing you to lose your keys or accidentally miss a meeting. The hormone can trigger headaches, shifting moods or fatigue—and it may also be why you are having trouble remembering things, especially if you notice short-term memory loss during your first trimester. This is when progesterone hikes are the greatest.

Pregnancy may also be a boon to your brain

A study conducted by the University of Bristol's Academic Unit of Psychiatry in the United Kingdom suggested that women actually experience some significantly enhanced cognitive abilities during pregnancy. Such benefits include an improved ability to read others' emotions based on their facial expressions. Authors of the study theorized that this is a protective defense, because it may heighten a woman's ability to detect people who may be a threat.

However, the study also indicated that the ability to recognize emotions may mean that pregnant women are more prone to anxiety, since anxiety is associated with accuracy in reading facial expressions.

Research on pregnancy brain continues

While it may be difficult to make any hard and fast statements about maternal cognition, researchers from Chapman University wrote a paper for the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science that compiles much of what we know about the brain during pregnancy—and underscores that which we don't.