"Baby brain" a real clinical entity finds study

Pregnant women are often forgetful and inattentive. This is called “baby brain” and has been recognized as a real entity by researchers now.

Image Credit: Odua Images / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Odua Images / Shutterstock

A new study has shown that four in five pregnant women tend to suffer from inattentiveness, mental fogginess, poor concentration and increasing forgetfulness. These phenomenon have been termed as baby brain and midwifery has been talking about this for ages now. The study now shows that many of these women actually suffer from some changes in their cognitive functions and several areas of their brain that deal with cognition are actually affected. The study appears in the latest issue of the journal Medical Journal of Australia.

Data was combined from 20 different studies for this one compilation of a study or meta analysis done by researchers at the Deakin University. These studies were all reporting the connection between brain changes and pregnancy. The cognitive functions of a total of 709 pregnant and 521 non-pregnant women were assessed using these tests. The total study population was assessed in these 20 different studies. The researchers noted for the first time that pregnancy may affect memory as well as other cognitive areas of the brain and each of the pregnancy trimesters were capable of affecting the brain differently and to different degrees.

Results from the study revealed that when compared to non-pregnant women, pregnant women tended to perform worse on memory tests and on tests for executive functioning. Executive functioning tests are ones that assess attention, inhibition, planning and decision making functions. For example they were asked to remember a set of digits in a line. This was called a digit span test. The differences between non pregnant women and pregnant women were most significant in the third trimester of pregnancy. The differences began as early as first trimester and finally stabilized by the end of the pregnancy senior author Associate Professor Linda Byrne said. It was most obvious in the third trimester she added.

The researchers add that these women were performing within the normal ranges of memory and other cognitive functions and were in no way inferior to the general population. The researchers add that these pregnant women were just not feeling as “sharp” as before and their cognitive changes actually did not affect their everyday life. Further each woman had a different experience and their levels of cognitive changes varied. Only perhaps the close family and friends and the women themselves noted a change in their cognitive abilities, write researchers.

As a next step the researchers looked for the underlying causes of these cognitive deficits in the pregnant women. Earlier studies have shown that the hippocampal region of the brain that deals with the memory functions shows losses of grey matter during pregnancy. These take around two years after the birth of the child to be restored to their previous states. This emphasizes the fact that this cognitive change is not a permanent one. Some of the experts believe that the hormones that are drastically altered during pregnancy could be the reason behind these changes. There is an increase in estrogen, progesterone and oxytocin. These could be playing a role in altering the brain functions. Mood swings associated with hormones, disturbed and lack of adequate sleep, morning sickness and increased stress levels are also thought to be contributors to changes in the brain functions during pregnancy.

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