Is 'Pregnancy Brain' Real?

Pregnancy can be an exciting time for many people, but it can also get a bit frustrating with all the physical and psychological side effects. Many women even report cognitive side effects, known as "pregnancy brain."

Research is conflicting as to whether or not this is a common phenomenon. According to a 2014 study, pregnant women and new mothers were more likely to report forgetfulness and memory loss, but this was not supported by neuropsychological measurements (via The Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology). On the other hand, another study from 2014 discovered that pregnant women scored lower than non-pregnant women on Spatial Recognition Memory (SRM) tests, which means they had more difficulty remembering locations (via Brain and Cognition). Deficits in memory were also found in a 2021 study published in Scientific Reports.

A major culprit is sleep deprivation. 78% of women experience insomnia during pregnancy (per American Pregnancy Association). Since sleep deprivation is known to reduce cognitive performance, it is no surprise that many pregnant women report feeling forgetful at times (via Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment). Pregnant women can also feel stressed and overwhelmed, which may interfere with the ability to focus, according to Healthline.

There is also evidence (via Nature Neuroscience) that pregnancy may cause physical changes in the brain, and Healthline suggests that this may also contribute to the cognitive changes experienced during pregnancy.

How to deal with cognitive issues during and after pregnancy

Ensuring that you get a good amount of sleep will help ease symptoms associated with "pregnancy brain." According to the Sleep Foundation, pregnant women should sleep on their side (preferably the left) with their legs slightly curled. This could alleviate back pain. If you are struggling with heartburn or shortness of breath, you may want to prop up your body with pillows (per American Pregnancy Association).

The American Pregnancy Association also recommends limiting caffeine after 3 p.m., staying hydrated, and exercising during the day (but not within four hours of bedtime). You should also keep your bedroom dark, peaceful, and cool. You may also want to consider taking part in a relaxing activity before bed, such as taking a warm bath. Healthline suggests establishing an evening routine and practicing breathing exercises before bed. If all else fails, you may resort to a short nap during the day to boost your energy levels.

If you are still struggling with forgetfulness, Healthline suggests leaving yourself reminders with a calendar, alarm, or sticky notes.