Battling Pregnancy Brain DrainStephanie Elliot
Spot Memory Lapses
Aside from expected pregnancy-related symptoms, experiencing even mild memory lapses can be frustrating. While there is no medical terminology for memory loss during pregnancy, some women lightheartedly refer to this symptom as placenta brain, preggo brain, or baby brain as they become forgetful, awkward, and inconsistent with their thoughts. Keys are misplaced, phone numbers are forgotten, and appointments are missed.
Some speculate that memory loss during pregnancy is a myth, but there seems to be some validity to the phenomenon. Does the shift of hormones cause a woman to become forgetful, or is it that a newly pregnant woman is so engrossed with the thoughts of a baby that everything else gets pushed aside?
Darryn W. Dunbar, CNM and assistant director of midwifery at Access Community Health Network in Chicago, Illinois, pinpoints increased levels of progesterone as the culprit for much of a pregnant woman’s memory loss. “Progesterone is the hormone that often causes significant fatigue, headaches, and mood swings. That cloudy feeling some women feel, especially in the first trimester, can contribute to the forgetfulness some women seem to experience,” says Dunbar, who notes that memory loss appears more prevalent in the first and last trimesters.
Sharpen Your Mind
Want to fight brain drain? Dunbar suggests the following to keep memory skills sharp during pregnancy:
- Get Adequate Rest: “When women are able to augment the amount of sleep they normally get, it is my experience that this aids with mental acuity and memory,” says Dunbar.
- Eat Right: Dunbar says having a balanced diet assures a vitamin or mineral deficiency is not causing forgetfulness or decreased memory capacity. He recommends taking prenatal vitamins so women can get the critical vitamins and minerals necessary during pregnancy, including folic acid.
- Exercise and Drink Fluids: Dunbar advises his patients to drink lots of fluids and exercise while pregnant. If a woman becomes dehydrated she can become fatigued and electrolytes may be altered, lending to “decreased memory, sub-optimal mental acuity and even mild confusion,” says Dunbar. Exercise offers a sense of well-being, increases circulation, and decreases fatigue.
Steven Wm. Fowkes, president of the Cognitive Enhancement Research Institute (CERI) in Menlo Park, California, and publisher of the Smart Drug Newsletter, explains that the same processes affecting memory in general also interfere with a pregnant woman’s memory. Fowkes cites the following disruptions (which run on a parallel with Dunbar’s recommendations) that occur in all people and cause memory to become dulled:
- Nutrient Deficiencies: Pregnant women are told to take folic acid and follow other guidelines on what to eat, what not to eat, and what to do during a pregnancy. Nutrients from a woman’s body are passed onto her fetus, so if a woman experiences bouts of nausea, her diet may change, causing a lack of nutrients necessary for the pregnancy. For example, according to Fowkes, “B12 deficiency (from avoidance of meat) can undermine memory and decrease DNA stability.”
- Sleep Disturbances: Fowkes agrees that sleep disturbances can cause memory problems. “It is my opinion that most sleeping problems are themselves caused by deeper influences [such as] metabolic disturbances, nutritional deficiencies … which can independently undermine memory function,” he says.
- Energy Disruption: Fatigue, lack of stamina, constipation, depression, memory loss, mental fuzziness, and having difficulties finding the right word when speaking can all be symptoms of energy disruption. A pregnant woman may experience any of these symptoms if she has been diagnosed with pregnancy-induced pre-diabetes. “The placenta causes a pregnant woman’s tissues to become insulin resistant, which prevents her tissues from absorbing and utilizing glucose efficiently,” says Fowkes. “Because the fetus is incapable of deriving appreciable energy from fat until the very latest stages of the pregnancy, fetal development is highly glucose dependent.” Fowkes says this is a cause of collateral memory problems.
Tales from Women Like You
Whether myth or truth, many mothers admit to feelings of memory loss when they become pregnant, and some claim that this lapse in memory continues beyond pregnancy.
Noreen Reis, mother of three from Newtown, Pennsylvania, thinks the memory lapses are due to women becoming so consumed with the pregnancy that they ignore everything else. “All of our energy is concentrated on the baby growing inside of us,” says Reis. That may be true, but what about the mother who has already had her child and still experiences these grains of memory loss?
Jennifer Trannon of Naperville, Illinois, and mother of three, says she experienced memory loss with all three of her pregnancies and isn’t sure it dissipates after birth. “One day in the first month after I had my third baby, I got in my car and started driving to the store, forgetting that Elijah was asleep in his swing,” Trannon says. Fortunately, she was only at the corner when she remembered and returned home to a safe and sleeping son.
Mother of five, Susan Morabito, BSN, RN, and CPN, of Mobile, Alabama, recalls documented research that put things into perspective for her. “Pregnant women are found to become forgetful during pregnancy and for several weeks or months thereafter as a result of increased fluid and swelling in the brain.” Morabito felt comfortable with this answer since it meant that nothing she was doing (or not doing) contributed to this symptom.
Laureen Mercier, who lives just outside Vancouver, British Columbia, also experienced bouts of memory loss during pregnancy. She would empty the dishwasher only to realize that its contents had not yet been washed. Once she drove to her old home instead of to the home where she currently lives. “I hadn’t lived in that house for six years!” says Mercier, who also recalls placing the toilet paper in the refrigerator instead of the bathroom. Her son is now a toddler and she still doesn’t feel her memory has returned to normal.
If you experience mild bouts of forgetfulness, discuss them with your obstetrician. While not usually a dangerous symptom, memory lapses can be wearisome.
To keep your memory sharp, listen to what your body is telling you. Eat right, exercise, take vitamins, and rest when you feel the need.