Anne Lamott wrote that each baby comes out clutching a third of its mother’s brain. And in my experience, that feels about right! Just the other day, I warned my husband that I may be experiencing early onset dementia. More likely it’s just a case of something most new mamas know all too well… pregnancy brain.
Is Pregnancy Brain a Real Thing?
Most moms have experienced what is known as “pregnancy brain” or “momnesia.” And sure, sleep deprivation has a lot to do with why many of us feel a bit… dimmer after giving birth.
But is there more going on besides the missing Zzzs?
One Australian study suggests yes, pregnancy brain is a real thing. Researchers studied more than 700 pregnant women and more than 500 non-pregnant women. They found that general cognitive functioning, memory and executive functioning were significantly reduced in pregnant women, particularly during the third trimester of pregnancy.
And it makes sense, given the significant changes our brains undergo during pregnancy. Here, some of the most surprising:
Five Crazy Ways Pregnancy Changes Your Brain
1. Your brain shrinks… literally
It appears that there may be a physical component to “pregnancy brain.” Researchers at Hammersmith
Hospital in the U.K. discovered that brains of healthy pregnant women decreased in size by up to six percent! Fortunately, women’s brains return to their pre-pregnancy size six months after delivery.
2. You get filled with love hormones
Oxytocin, or the “hormone of love and bonding,” is something we release naturally during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Oxytocin makes women calmer, more trusting, and more open to love. In fact, levels of oxytocin in pregnant women can even predict mother-child bonding.
While oxytocin amps up the love within a family, it can also increase defensive aggression toward people outside of the family group, which explains the phenomenon of Mama Bear. Grr….
3. You get great at recognizing faces
Researchers at McMaster University recently found
that pregnant women are significantly better at recognizing faces—men’s faces in particular. Why? Well, one theory holds that women become particularly vigilant toward men during pregnancy, to quickly spot—and avoid—threats.
4. You become a master multitasker
We already know that women are better at multitasking then men. Apparently, the performance gap widens even further during pregnancy, when activity increases in the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brains in charge of multi-tasking.
5. You get smarter
Wait, isn’t the whole “pregnancy brain” thing supposed to be about moms losing some of their wits? Not quite. A study out of Yale found that motherhood sets off structural changes in the brain, increasing its processing capabilities. And the more doting moms are on their babies, the smarter the mothers become! YAY!
More Good News About Pregnancy Brain
In laboratory tests, pregnant rodents experienced many of these same benefits (better multitasking, spatial skills, decreased anxiety). But here’s the kicker: the rats enjoyed these benefits of pregnancy throughout the rest of their lives, long after their babies grew up. So we’ve got that going for us, too.
So Maybe “Momnesia” aka Pregnancy Brain, Ain’t All Bad?
Apparently not! Which is encouraging news. Just because I can’t remember what day it is, or when the baby went down for a nap, doesn’t mean I’m less intelligent. It just means that I’m running on less sleep—and maybe that I’m dedicating more mental resources to loving my kids.
How About You?
Did you experience pregnancy brain or “momnesia?” Do you think pregnancy or motherhood changed your brain for the better? Share with us in the comments below!