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Have you ever struggled to find your car in the car park…then your car keys…then arrived home to discover you forgot to buy the item you originally went to the shops to purchase? We have all heard of Baby Brain, but does it really exist, or is it just a way of excusing what can sometimes turn out to be rather disconcerting behaviour?
What is Baby Brain?
Lots of pregnant and new mums claim that their brain no longer works as well as it used to, especially when it comes to remembering things. When I was pregnant and busy with three small children I used to liken my brain to spaghetti – lots of strands but no connections! Baby Brain is really the feeling that you can no longer remember the simplest of things, where in the past your memory was top notch and you were always ‘on the ball’.
Does Baby Brain really exist?
In the past the claim was dismissed as a ‘myth’, but as research techniques improve, a team from Australia have found that Baby Brain definitely exists1. Pregnant women and mums with little ones have been found to have poorer short-term memory compared to other woman of the same age. In fact they found their memory to be similar to those in their sixties! It appears to only affect new and complex memory tasks. Regular, well-practiced tasks are not affected. While the researchers do not offer much in the way of explanation, they consider that new mums are busy and have to remember a lot of tasks and this makes remembering things more challenging. Baby Brain is certainly not a new phenomenon. I remember my mother telling us about the time she had driven, with her three children and new baby, 100 kilometres to visit her mother in the city – about an hour and a half drive. Half way into her return journey home she realised that she had left the baby asleep in his bassinet at her mothers! It was a very long drive home that day.
While the actual reason for Baby Brain is unknown, there may be a ‘chemical’ connection. It is highly likely that alterations in hormone levels that occur naturally during pregnancy and in the first year of life affect how the brain functions2. Once pregnant, mothers have increased levels of a variety of hormones. These hormones ensure the safety of the growing foetus; that there will be a ready milk supply at birth; and that the mother is ‘primed’ to provide adequate care. One of these hormones, for example, is prolactin. Prolactin is important in reducing anxiety levels and thus supports nurturing maternal behaviour3.
What does this mean?
Baby Brain is most likely there for a reason – to help you focus on what is the most important job in your life – raising your baby. While others around you may be frustrated by your forgetfulness, just remember that nature has found a way of making sure that mum is directing her attention to the newest member of the household!
I did wonder if I would ever get my ‘connected brain’ back… and yes, I have, and it actually seems to work even better than before! I can multitask easily, remember a long list of jobs and (mostly) get everything done on time!
Dr Jane Williams (PhD, RNPaeds) is the Director and General Manager for Research and Education, GymbaROO and KindyROO.
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References: 1. Rendell, P & Henry J, D (2008). Prospective-memory functioning is affected during pregnancy and postpartum, Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 30(8) pp. 913-919. 2. Brunton, P.J & Russell, J. A. (2008) The expectant brain: adapting for motherhood. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9, 11-25, doi:10.1038/nrn2280 3. Larsen, C.M & Grattan, D. R (2013). Prolactin-Induced Mitogenesis in the Subventricular Zone of the Maternal Brain during Early Pregnancy Is Essential for Normal Postpartum Behavioral Responses in the Mother. Endocrinology, 151(8), DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1210/en.2009-1385
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