Pregnancy Brain is Real – 5 Crazy Ways Being Pregnant Changes Your Brain

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!

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 75,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth book

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from a natural perspective!

65 Comments

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  1. I’m 9 weeks and I seriously feel so much slower than I ever have in my life. It’s odd because I’ve always have a very clear mind and sharp memory. I felt very proud of my ability to think fast and remember everything! Now I’m learning that there is another quality I’m developing… just being present with my whole heart in the moment.

  2. Hi there. I can’t imagine that how much my friend’s life will be mostly changed next moth with her twins newborn. I think it must be double tired . I’m thinking to find a best gift for her which support her tireless. Could you please share me some ideas?

    • A postpartum doula would be a great gift!

  3. I just flooded my apartment after forgetting to turn the kitchen tap off while filling the dog water bowl. Fun.

  4. I’ve been missing my makeup back for 5 days now. I’ve searched high and low. I remember doing my makeup in the kitchen on the weekend, multitasking trying to get out of the house quickly. The only thing I can think of might have happened is that after I put on my makeup, I threw the whole case in the garbage can and then put it out on the curb early this week 🙁 I’m very discouraged as there is probably around $300 worth of products and tools in there! I guess its finally time to invest in that all natural makeup I’ve been wanting.

  5. At maybe 20 weeks along I was searching through the pantry for something. Then I realized I couldn’t remember what I was looking for. After a while retracing my steps, I remembered: ice cubes. I was searching for ice cubes. In the cupboard.

    And today, at 25 weeks, I was cooking. I was looking for something on our bookshelves, but couldn’t remember what. Then I realized I was supposed to be looking for carrots in the refrigerator.

    This is my third baby (not counting miscarriages), and if that quote is true, that each baby takes 1/3 of their mother’s brain, I’m pretty much screwed! Haha!

  6. I burned few dinners because I completely forgot about them after being distracted with my little one. I also flooded my place and my mom’s after I forgot to put the water pump from my washing machine to the sink.
    My baby is 5 months and my apartment is still standing- so I guess I am in good shape!:)

  7. I am currently pregnant with my first. And I don’t get more loving I’ve been a lot meaner. And I’m always going off on stupid people even more now. I only get more loving towards the daddy/boyfriend once I get tired? Is that even normal???? I forget everything. I mean EVERYTHING! I can’t remember crap and I can be so mean.

    • Hello. How far along are u? I am 30 weeks and feel that my temper is getting worse then ever to. Zero tolerance for ignorance lol. Short fused lol

      • I had this issue in my first trimester. I was so hormonal and combative, I thought I would lose my job! I reacted in ways that were very offputting to people and whereas I felt guilty, I was very open about being hormonal! I feel a lot better now but I’ve also changed my environment up a lot (moved to a new state) so there aren’t as many triggers. Don’t beat yourself up! We are the givers of life and our bodies are not ours entirely right now! Plus it’s temporary and life will continue going on after you and the baby are finally separate.

  8. During my pregnancy I was ok in my first trimester. After that I started to forget things and I never and I meannever ever forgot anything especially at work. Yiu could ask me anything even stuff 5 years ago and I would gi e a an anser and a reason Why. My baby had colic or so we thought but his neck bo es was not in tact, eventually after 6mo ths we got that fixed but crying was and screaming that he passes out was part of his life already. He is 1 and a half andmy brain is still pathetic and I hate myself for not remembering like I used to.

  9. After my baby born I noticed I couldn’t see her nails to cut and the menu options in a restaurant appeared blurred. I went to the opticians and they told me it is mainly tiredness, but it doesn’t matter if I have good nights of sleep, it seems my sight is already deteriorated 🙁

    I also noticed that my English got worst (English is my 2nd language) and I started (and continue after 9 months after labour) to make many grammatical mistakes that I was not doing before and forgetting lots of vocabulary.
    I could bet that my mind is not as sharp as it used to be.

    A good night sleep doesn’t change it…perhaps I need a week!

    Any advise how can I improve my brain and sight performance?

    • That might warrant a trip to your provider mama.

    • Persistent visual disturbances should be looked into with a provider. It could indicate some blood sugar issues that aren’t being managed. However, a little bit of sight change is to be expected as all the increased fluids in the body change the shape of the cornea. I usually have very good 20/20 vision and now I am slightly near sighted so I can’t see fine print as easily and I can’t see quite as far. That’s normal! But it’s always good to look into things because everyone is different. Eye dryness can cause blurred vision as well. If you live in a particularly dry climate like I do (I live in the desert) artificial tears are a life saver!

  10. Pregnancy does indeed change a mother’s brain. Right after I had my second child, I had a grand Mal seizure. I was not diagnosed as epileptic and I had no more issues (having never had seizures before in my life!). However, at 35 weeks pregnant with my third child I began having more seizures, and an EEG showed abnormal activity in the left frontal lobe of my brain. After giving birth, I have not had any more seizures (praise the Lord!), and I’d be curious to know if that abnormality still exists. Pregnancy does some weird things to our bodies!

  11. Researchers have concluded that pregnancy causes a spike in estrogen and progesterone. Those hormones can be produced up to 40 times more during pregnancy! In general, hormones are known to effect our ability to remember where things are (spatial memory skills). This helps explains why most pregnant women forget where they left their purse, or why there are scissors and a box of cereal in the fridge. Throw in how mommy may forget an important appointment or lose her words mid-sentence, and you can see how forgetfulness is part of preg head symptoms.

  12. 25 weeks pregnant with my 4th, yesterday I took my son out for a date to the GF bakery and when I returned to my car I couldn’t find my cell phone anywhere, I went back in the bakery and looked with no luck, returned to my car where I searched some more, still no luck. I went back into the bakery a second time and discovered it was in the freezer along with the frozen bread. It was cold, I was embarrassed but not at all surprised I did that.

  13. Oh boy! Im three in a half months pregnant with my fourth blessing. I LOVE being a mom, it just might be the only thing I think I know I’m good at. I like to consider myself full of love for anyone I come in contact with….But lately I’ve had to reevaluate my personality! I’m down right rude, snappy and straight up angree! I am constantly moody! Seriously moms, I now regularly retrace my steps and go back to apologize to the people who are unfortunate enough to have contact with me. From the bank teller to the grocery store clerk, to anyone who doesn’t do things right by my mentality. I can’t seem to get a hold of myself, I walk away and then cry like an crazy woman. I cry because of my emense disappointment with myself for talking to these poor innocent victims with such rudeness. Weather it’s deserved or not, I get no feeling of justification from my terrible attitude. SO, I’ve decided to stay home for the rest of my pregnancy!….AND that six months that follows! 🙂 (Ohhhh easier said than done.)
    ~ Nat

    • Natalie Page
      Northern California

    • Oh my, me too! 38 weeks now and most of them I’ve been angry or moody or depressed, constantly snappy with my partner and just an outright nightmare! ?

      • I have been feeling the same way..since the minute this pregnancy started, my third pregnancy..and the first to bring so much unexplainable sadness..I am 26weeks today and still have a long way to go before birth..I hope to regain control of my emotions after birth..

    • Natalie, if it makes you feel better, you are not alone with these feelings. You just have the maternal instinct to protect your baby. And if you feel bad about your behavior, try to remember the face of the person you yelled at and say this
      “I forgive you and I release you. I hold no unforgiveness back. My forgiveness for you is total. I am free and you are free.” Breath deeply and say “Peace!”.
      See how you will feel later ?

  14. 25 weeks pregnant with our 2nd… At least once a week my husband will come home from work and hands me my keys and says “forget something?” Apparently I just can’t remember to get my keys out of the door after running errands with my four year old!! Another thing I’ve noticed is that I’m not as stressed about bills (I’m forgetting to pay when I’ve run our finances in the home for 10 years!) Thank you for this article, Genevieve!! Can’t wait to bond with our baby girl and occasionally turn into “mama bear” LOL!

  15. I looked right at my friends husband, whom I’ve met many times, and asked him if we’re met before.
    In all fairness he was dressed up and without his hat.

  16. This is great! I get that ‘uh…what was I just doing?” …aalll the time! So now instead of feeling dum for that I can think of these other things! It’s so true! It’s also so crazy how when you have a child and haven’t had experience much experience with babies before you just almost automatically kinda know what to do! You can connect and, being their mom you can usually tell exactly what’s going on! Thanks for the encouraging info! Very cool.

  17. I feel goofy saying this, but even though I’ve had so many emotional ups and downs and crying over crazy things, I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt this happy. Even though I’m not always comfortable, or feeling well, and I get so stressed out sometimes, I just have this underlying sense of joy that isn’t anywhere near leaving my heart. I love it 🙂 I do feel all giddy and loving but I don’t know if I’d compare it to when my husband and I were dating. It’s a different kind somehow. And even though I get stressed, I’ve felt a lower sense of anxiety than I usually do. I just feel at peace. 🙂

    Also, I’ve been crazy forgetful so maybe I’m just forgetting what I usually worry about 😉

  18. I love that you as a husband are reading mama natural 🙂

  19. I was just saying to my husband last night that I feel so much more loving and trusting and open and like my authentic self since being pregnant. When I read #2 I thought, “well, that explains it. Amazing that you are able to actually feel the difference!

  20. I have two boys that are 21 and 10 months, I had them back to back and oh boy I surely lost part of my ability to think, remember, concentrate, focus, and a lot more.

    • WOW, mama! That’s intense. BUT, the light is at the end of the tunnel. They’ll be such great playmates!

  21. This is the most stupid I have felt in all my lifetime….its unreal. I actually enjoy and appreciate my pregnancy but man oh man I feel so Stupid!! lol! I am used to having such a sharp brain, remember movies, actors names, work files, small details …NOW I feel as smart as a rock. I’m happy I know my brain and where I live lol! ….Oh, and the mood swings….I don’t really get emotional and cry I get enraged and want to punch people! (…rest-assured I don’t). Its very difficult to deal with and I feel bad for my man….Where is my ocytocin?? 🙁

    • It will come back around. Just hang in there. Your brain may lose some of its sharpness but you’ll make up for it in other ways. Plus, babies are worth it 🙂 Xo

  22. My little one is 2 months still can’t multitask!!

  23. This was a very interesting article. I just gave birth to twins at 23 weeks gestation.
    The first was stillborn and his brother is in the NICU. I have noticed that when I am asking the doctors and nurses questions, my words get all jumbled until I am embarrassed that I even started to say anything. Although, I do think it is worth it to advocate for my son.

  24. My second baby is almost three months and even before she was born I felt like I had a hard time thinking nd explaining to anyone what I was thinking. I sometimes forget what my husband and I are talking about or can’t seem to find the answer to a question the sales clerk asks me.

  25. I’m 31 weeks. I thought being pregnant would make me more sympathetic to super cute/girly personalities, and instead I feel even less tolerant. I swear if someone calls me “little mama” one more time I’m gonna choke them out!

    • this made me literally LOL. I’m also a “not so girly” girl so I empathize!

  26. I took Dutch language classes during my second trimester and I couldn’t learn a thing, I’m not sure I rerember even one new word from that time. And before I was the one to always know all the words, even without special efforts.
    Now in my third trimester I feel like I can’t remember anything new, sometimes old important information seems to be gone forever.
    I hope it gets better…

  27. Great article..my baby just completed 6 months and I can think better. I was so uninterested in anything else other than my baby. Work was also hard with the less sleep and fuzzy memory. I can feel the difference now that my baby has completed 6 months… I an able to think more clear now.. thanks for the article. . Good to know all women have similar situation.

  28. Before I got pregnant, I believed pregnancy brain was ‘all in your head’ and not real. Boy was I humbled early on in my pregnancy. I locked my keys in my car three times in one week.

    • I left my cell phone on top of the car 4 times. The 4th time was its final ride. lol

  29. Momnesia, perfect. The most frustrating part for me is when I have trouble remembering… oh what are those things you say… together…that tell people what you mean…oh yeah WORDS!

  30. Oh baby brain… I remember my husband having to come and bring me the most random things while I was working… My lunch. My keys. My phone. I’d like to think I’ve gotten better, but I’d probably be lying lol

  31. Very interesting information
    I may feel it but not so disturbing me
    I am trying to do my works as before though sometime feel lose my focus 😀

  32. Great article! I greatly enjoy this positive information and can totally relate!

  33. Youve put a very positive spin on pregnancy brain, and infortunately i dont think thats reality for many of us. Pregnancy has decreased my productivity and motivation at work, and ive been suffering from anxiety & depression for 18 months (from postpartum with my first through to my current pregnancy). Great to know what our brains are capable of, but would have loved you to be more balanced and realistic. Its tough going through these changes when youre supposed to ecstatic about a new baby, and having support from the birth community is key.

    • I agree that everyone has different experiences during pregnancy, but It was nice to hear the ups for once. Besides, most of the “bad” which comes from pregnancy comes from the mother not taking care of herself by not eating properly or exercising or having complications which she cant control.

  34. Childbirth put me in what felt like Alzheimer’s state for years. Tracking, long term and short term memory loss, aphasia. I thought id had a stroke.
    Turns out that there is a methylation genetic variant many of us have that among other things can stockpile stuff like histamine, or our last straw when I got to the right help, chlorine in public pool.
    Find a naturopath that can treat methylation disorders. I got my brain back in 3 days. If you dont have a naturopath to see, look up Dr. Ben Lynch online. He is training all types of doctors and health practitioners to diagnose and treat this. Dont let anyone put you on psych meds for these issues of memory and mood-MTHFR, undermethylation, look into that.

  35. For me, pregnancy and nursing has been particularly draining on my brain. The worst thing I’ve noticed is in my piano playing. It’s like my brain is full of fuzz. I used to sightread so well… But every pregnancy my brain feels slower and so distracted like I’m in a fog. I suspect my body is just depleted and my brain is paying for it… But it is rather frustrating.

    The other day, I was signing up my daughter for swim lessons and I could not remember her birthday… It was like it just fell out of my brain and was gone… I could remember the month, but it’s like the connection to the day was just missing. That evening, I realized I’d put the wrong day down. I was mortified because I’m really quite good with numbers and logic. So 28 months of pregnancy, 42 months of nursing so far, and many missed hours sleep have definitely done a number on my brain.

    I’ve noticed interesting things too with oxytocin and sleep. I get rather used to nursing my babies to sleep and falling asleep with the oxytocin dump :). After I weaned my first two babies, I had to train myself on how to fall asleep again without the hormone to relax me and knock me out!

  36. I agree with you. I feel more focused on tasks, I guess because ultimately it had to do with making the baby’s life better. I complain less and I’m waaaaaay more easy going. I was an optimist before, but even more so now…But don’t talk about my baby! Grrrrr

  37. I Wish It Worked Like That For Me. I Did My Hsc While Pregnant With Morning Sickness And Didn’t Do As Well As I Had Hoped But I Also Had A Sick 1 Yr old

  38. This is great information. I actually work in Dr. Rutherford’s lab at McMaster University, who did the study about pregnant women being good at recognizing faces! It is great to see some Canadian love! Thanks!

  39. Not remembering almost anything plus terrible panic attacks!

  40. I’ve heard it referred to as “momnesia”. Good to know there’s some science to back it up.

  41. In German, we actually have to words for baby brain. One is “pregnancy dementia”, the other “breastfeeding dementia”. After giving birth to our son, I was so scatterbrained, I had to tell my husband to write things down for me if they were of any importance. If it had nothing to do with the baby, it had nothing to do with me. Now I’m pregnant again, and already anything not to do with the baby is of no interest to my brain…

  42. I have experienced baby brain with both pregnancies. I am now 4 months postpartum and I still feel a little groggy, because of sleep deprivation! I work with numbers and I need to identify trends and sometimes I feel so tired that I cannot think or understand what I’m looking at… In the other hand, being a mother has made me a way better employee… I am more responsible with how I use my time. I wake up earlier, not that I have a choice…,so I get to work earlier and I work and work with only 2 pumping breaks in between getting a lot more done than before I had my kids…

    • My work hours got way more effective after I had my son as well! I went back part time when he was two weeks and full time when he could start day care at six. I also work with numbers and spreadsheets and writing so I found I had to work with gentle, non descript background music (I offer classical). It wasn’t so deadly silent that the only thing I could think about was the silence, but it wasn’t distracting because there were no lyrics or anything like that. always nice to hear what other working moms are up to

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