Being pregnant can mean that your hormones are all over the place and many women even report problems with their memory, often referred to as "baby brain". Pregnancy can have all sorts of strange effects on the body, from morning sickness to a heightened sense of smell. Now, researchers have found that pregnancy brain is a significant and measurable phenomenon, confirming what pregnant women reporting lower levels of cognitive function have thought all along.
Scientists at Deakin University, Australia, carried out a meta-analysis of 20 different studies on the relationship between pregnancy and cognitive function. The studies incorporated 709 pregnant women and 521 non-pregnant women. The team found that overall, cognitive functioning and memory were worse among pregnant women. The findings are published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
"General cognitive functioning, memory, and executive functioning were significantly reduced during the third trimester of pregnancy (compared with control women), but not during the first two trimesters," the authors wrote in their paper.
What's more, the long-term studies analyzed showed that general cognitive function and memory worsened between the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, but not between the second and third trimesters.
“The differences primarily develop during the first trimester, and are consistent with recent findings of long-term reductions in brain grey matter volume during pregnancy," the researchers concluded. "The impact of these effects on the quality of life and everyday functioning of pregnant women requires further investigation.”
Melissa Hayden, co-author of the research, said in a statement that the changes in behavior experienced by pregnant women are small and likely only really noticeable to the women themselves and maybe their close friends and family, as they manifest "mainly as minor memory lapses (e.g., forgetting or failing to book medical appointments)."
Although the new study suggests that pregnant women can face memory issues, more research still needs to take place to determine how significantly this can impact their day-to-day functioning and quality of life. However, it is likely that the impacts aren't too alarming, as noted by co-author Linda Byrne, as "performance remained within the normal ranges of general cognitive functioning and memory."