Thursday, March 24, 2011

In the Family Way: This is Your Brain on Baby

I don’t even know where to start on this one... And that’s exactly what this post is about.

You see, I have been suffering from “pregnancy brain” lately. Forgetting things, losing things, coming up short with answers I swear I knew not 5 minutes ago. And it’s generally making me feel like a 1st grader stuck in the body of an adult woman.

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And I’m not alone. During the later portion of pregnancy, numerous research studies have shown that women’s brains actually shrink, and brain cell volume decreases by about 3-8%. This shrinkage maxes out at term, with mothers-to-be averaging about 15% more forgetfulness than their non-pregnant counterparts (I apologize for not linking to the studies I read.. I can’t remember where I wrote them down). While we like to generally think in terms of “quality, not quantity”, that doesn’t necessarily apply to brains, unfortunately. We also know that lack of sleep affects memory and brain function, so add the two together for a proven winner in the world of forgetfulness and mental missteps. So it should be no surprise to anyone when a preggo can’t find her keys, forgets to switch the laundry into the dryer or can’t return from a basic shopping trip without leaving off half the items on her list. If it’s any consolation, these studies also indicate a full return to pre-pregnancy brain size and volume at about 6 months (though I know many a mom who would like to keep using that excuse indefinitely).

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The jury is out on the cause of the shrinkage and why it actually occurs. Hormones are a likely culprit, but in terms of evolutionary advantage, few theories have been suggested. My personal take on this data? This phenomenon is a gift from God. It must be for the benefit of humankind if expectant and newly post-partum mothers remember as little as possible about the experience. I’m only partly kidding :) Seriously, if people remembered the pain and sleep-deprivation caused by childbirth and newborns, it would be a miracle if the species survived. But that’s just my two cents… and the product of a currently dwindling brain. If there’s a third trimester pregnant woman in your life who doesn’t have her act together, please do what she does… forgive and forget :)

1 comment:

Alexis said...

I LOVED this post. Esp. the last line - HA! I will say that I find normal functioning to be so much easier now then the last several years so I'm a big believer in these studies from my own anacdotal experience.