Is “Pregnancy Brain” Real?

by | Oct 12, 2023 | Birth Parent Blog

Young woman looking at her phone and holding her head while standing on the streetTerms like “baby brain,” “pregnancy brain,” and “momnesia” are often used while joking about pregnant women being forgetful. For example, you might go to the grocery store but forget what you went there to buy. Or you might have written something on the back of your hand only to forget where you put your pen. But is pregnancy brain a real thing?
Read on to understand the meaning and causes of pregnancy brain and get tips to help lift the fog.

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What is “Pregnancy Brain”?

This term refers to a pregnant woman’s absentmindedness during and shortly after pregnancy. Pregnancy brain can range from putting things in strange places, forgetting why you went into a room, to all-around absentmindedness.
Most moms-to-be know to expect the physical symptoms of pregnancy: swollen ankles, an expanding waistline, and glowing skin, for example. But in addition to these common pregnancy symptoms, you probably weren’t anticipating brain fog.
But try to relax because while pregnancy does not change your brain, it can affect how mentally sharp you feel. And there are plenty of ways to cope!

Is Pregnancy Brain Real?

You’re not alone if you’re pregnant and feel like it’s turning your brain to dough. As many as 50 to 80% of women report experiencing memory problems during pregnancy, so you’re not alone. But that figure comes with an exception because reports of memory issues during pregnancy are probably more typical than actual memory issues.
“A woman’s actual brain cells do not change, but the environment around them do,” says Dr. Abdelaziz Salh, a Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital. He continues, “During pregnancy, the body sends a flood of fluctuating hormones throughout the body. It’s like a truckload of different sizes and flavors, which affect all kinds of neurons in the brain.”
Such physiological changes in the brain during pregnancy can cause women to be absentminded and have issues concentrating. So if it seems like you misplace your phone, forget why you walked into the kitchen, or overlook appointments, you’re not just imagining it.

What Causes Forgetfulness During Pregnancy?

Surging hormones, a lack of sleep, and new priorities help explain why pregnancy brain happens.
“There is 15 to 40 times more progesterone and estrogen marinating the brain during pregnancy. 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,” says Dr. Louann Brizendine, the director of the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco.
It’s completely normal to be forgetful when you’re short on sleep. Experiencing pregnancy insomnia, heartburn, or restless legs syndrome (RLS) can contribute to a lack of sleep. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your memory won’t be as good. You are not as mentally sharp when you haven’t slept well.
Pregnancy may also change what gets your attention. While your IQ doesn’t change, your priorities do. You only have so much space in your brain, so most of it is filled with baby stuff during pregnancy.

How to Cope

You don’t need to give up and accept your forgetfulness just yet. Here are some brain-boosting tips to sharpen your mental sharpness:

  1. Write Things Down and Set Reminders
  2. Many women find it helpful to jot down their day’s two or three most important to-do’s on paper or put them in their phone to see throughout the day. A daily planner can help you feel less forgetful and more organized. Use your phone to take pictures of where you left your keys or even your car in a parking lot to help you remember.

    It can also be helpful to set yourself up with reminders. Make simple reminders on sticky notes to leave around your home. Or use your phone: setting reminders, filling your calendar, and using the “Reminders” function can all help.

  3. Get More Sleep
  4. Even though sleep can be hard to come by during pregnancy, you can take a few measures to relax your body and quiet your mind before bed.

    Create a bedtime routine, which can include taking a warm bath, turning your phone off, and practicing breathing exercises.

    If this doesn’t work, taking a cat nap can help. Just 20 minutes of sleep will help. While you might feel tempted to take a longer nap, it could make you feel groggy when you wake up. So keep the midday naps short and sweet.

  5. Try not to worry
  6. Stress can make memory issues seem even worse. Getting preoccupied with minor memory lapses can over-sensitize you to regular, minor changes in memory.

    You’ve got a going on physically, mentally, and emotionally during pregnancy, so don’t beat yourself up if something slips your mind. Learn to forgive yourself when you forget, and try to find humor in it.

  7. Ask for help
  8. What can you delegate, drop, or take a break from? When possible, get assistance from those around you who aren’t pregnant to serve as your backup system. Family, spouses, friends, and co-workers should be willing to lend you a hand.

  9. Exercise
  10. Regular exercise is important for a healthy pregnancy. It reduces stress, sharpens your memory, and helps you sleep better at night. Unless your doctor has advised you not to, you can do workouts like swimming, walking, dancing, and prenatal yoga.

  11. Play brain-boosting games
  12. Similar to how your muscles need exercise, your brain will benefit from a workout, too. Try doing crossword puzzles or playing Sudoku to help engage your mind. You might also download an app, like Peak, Lumosity, or Elevate, to help get those creaky gears moving.

Brain Fog During Pregnancy

Pregnancy brain might make you feel less than sharp, but with patience (and sleep), you will feel like yourself again. In the meantime, remember that there are real physiological, mental, and physical reasons why pregnancy brain is happening to you.
Fortunately, most pregnant women who experience brain fog typically have minor, manageable forgetfulness — and, it’s just temporary.
If this blog helped you, you’ll want to check out our other blogs with pregnancy tips:
How to Have a Healthy Pregnancy
Easy-to-Prepare Foods for Pregnant Women
5 Pregnancy-Safe Workouts You’ll Love

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 21, 2015, and has since been updated. 

Heidi Keefer

Written by Heidi Keefer

Heidi Keefer is a Content Creator for Lifetime Adoption and has over 15 years of experience in the field of adoption. An author of thousands of articles and social media posts over the years, Heidi enjoys finding new ways to educate and captivate Lifetime’s ever-growing list of subscribers.

Heidi has a keen eye for misplaced apostrophes, comma splices, and well-turned sentences, which she has put to good use as a contributor to Lifetime’s award-winning blogs. She has written and published hundreds of adoption articles which explore the various facets of domestic infant adoption today.

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