We have all heard it, if we haven’t said it before: “I have pregnancy brain!” As a midwife in training, I spend time with women who live with this reality every day. It tends to run into newborn brain as well. And sometimes mom brain.
It is so common, I actually don’t know one pregnant woman who has not experienced the memory loss that comes with bearing children.
What causes this? Is the brain actually impaired? Well, studies show that spacial memory is in fact limited; this is the part of the brain used to remember where things were, or why we walked into that room for the fifth time. Much of this change can be attributed to the lovely hormones that come with pregnancy. Estrogen and progesterone are increased 15% to 40% during pregnancy. The non-pregnant female experiences a spike in these hormones during the menstrual cycle. Estrogen spikes at the time of ovulation, and progesterone spikes between ovulation and menstruation (the PMS period), some may identify with memory loss on a small scale during these times.
Some say that momnesia occurs because the body’s first priority is to grow the baby inside, and second to take care of itself. The memory capacity is limited as a result of brain power being redirected to the uterus. Now, the brain is not actually affected, but it feels like it is because of all the hormonal changes and energy that is required to function normally and grow a new human at the same time.
When one notices that she is walking into a room several times a day and not remembering when she gets there why she is there, it may be a good idea to start simplifying life. Start making lists, jotting down ideas, questions for your midwife or OB/GYN, or grocery needs or to-do lists when they come to mind. It is much simpler to open that note pad or list on the phone than to retrace your steps to attempt to remember what it was. And if you add in a toddler? Forget all memory capabilities! Stress is a memory killer, so whatever stressors are possible to eliminate, now is a great time to delegate, ask for help, and to just take a step back from extra responsibilities. Saying no is ok.
During pregnancy, a woman’s body needs more sleep, and lack of sufficient sleep leads to memory malfunction. Newborns start out feeding every two hours or so. It is a great idea to increase the amount of sleep you are getting before the baby comes, so you are a little more stocked up and ready to go months without a full night’s sleep. (That was a joke.) I understand for many moms who have lives, that 8 hours of sleep is a luxury that is only dreamt about. Napping is your best friend! Sleep when baby sleeps; do not succumb to the temptation to clean your house! …Let the visitors do that. One of my favorite ideas is to hang a sign on the door that kindly informs visitors of a list of house chores for them to choose from before holding the sweet new baby.
Much of the friends and family we have visiting after a birth are well-intentioned, loving people who just don’t understand that if they only come to hold the baby, the mom who just labored for hours, birthed the baby, and is baby’s sole source of food, and is sleep deprived is going to get up and take out the trash because it needs to be done. We love our visitors, and we want them to come back, so a sweet, informative note is great!
One thing that may help with memory loss is a B-vitamin complex. A liquid form is best, as B-vitamins are fragile, and digestion doesn’t leave much of them for the body. It is pretty easy to find, as most drug stores carry them. Use a dropper full under the tongue, let it sit 30 seconds, then swallow. This is taking the vitamins sublingually, which allows them to be absorbed into the system directly. The flavor is not bad at all. A well rounded diet, especially protein, also helps balance memory function.