Is Pregnancy Brain A Myth?

Apr 10, 2015

You may have experienced it yourself or read about it on a popular mommy blog: pregnancy brain.

“Poor memory, poor attention, poor cognitive functioning,” said Michael Larson, an assistant professor of psychology at BYU.

Popular belief holds that moms-to-be in their third trimester and in the months that follow the birth of their child don’t think as clearly as when they’re not pregnant. But new research from Brigham Young University shows that pregnancy brain may not be real.

As one of the lead researchers on this study, Larson compared the brain functioning of pregnant or postpartum women to those of women who have never been pregnant.

“It’s things like memorizing a shopping list, memorizing a story, doing really rapid arithmetic problems, those are some examples of the test,” Larson said.

He said on self-evaluations, pregnant women felt less confident about their brain functioning, even though test results showed no difference between the brains of the two groups.

“The women who were pregnant and after they had already given birth felt like they were doing much worse than those who had never been pregnant, despite the fact that their scores on all of these tests didn’t differ, in fact they almost overlapped,” Larson said.

So why do women feel the effects of pregnancy brain if pregnancy brain isn’t real? Larson said some of it is psychological. If you suggest to someone that they’re doing worse, they will feel like they are doing worse. In some of his other research with concussion sufferers, Larson even found that a negative suggestion will make participants score worse on cognitive tests.

Another aspect of this feeling may simply be the side effects of being a new parent.

“There are factors that could make individuals feel like they’re doing poorly; Sleep deprivation being a big one, as well as just the multitasking demands,” Larson said. “Our research was done in a lab that was quiet, just to test the brain functioning, but when you add those other competing demands it can definitely feel like you’re doing worse.”

Larson said he hopes what women can learn from this study is that they can be successful in their day-to-day tasks and that their brains are okay.