We’ve all been there. Standing in the landing, scratching our heads, trying desperately to remember what we came upstairs for in the first place. As if it isn’t enough to be dealing with the demands of a forming foetus or bouncing bundle, it sometimes feels like a fog of forgetfulness has descended. In its midst are the equivalent of “senior moments”, or should I say “maternity and motherhood moments”.
This commonly reported phenomena has many names – “baby brain drain”, “placenta brain”, “preg head”, and most commonly “baby brain” – and is characterised by memory loss and concentration lapse. While opinion varies considerably on its magnitude and longevity, the one thing we can all agree on is that the daft deeds that you’d never have done before, or could even imagine yourself doing, suddenly become the norm during the pregnant and post-partum periods.
Some medical experts may try to dispel baby brain as a myth but we mothers know better having experienced it first-hand time and again. Plus there’s proof! An Australian analysis of 14 research studies conducted across the globe since 1990 provided “clear cut findings” that pregnancy affects memory for up to 80% of pregnant women and new mothers. According to the study, “The results indicate that pregnant women are significantly impaired on some, but not all, measures of memory. And, specifically, those that place relatively high demands on executive cognitive control may be selectively disrupted.” It described these deficits as “very, very subtle”.
So is it fair to blame the bump? Do we in fact donate brain cells to the baby within?
A study by the Bradford Institute for Health Research found that women in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy tend to suffer a loss of spatial memory (the recall of locations and positions of objects), concluding that “altered hormone levels during pregnancy may affect brain regions [the hippocampus] involved in memory processing.”
I’m sure many of us can relate to the following scenario relayed to me by a friend: “I regularly find myself looking for things around the house as I can’t remember where I left them. I can’t tell you how many times I use the landline to call my missing mobile phone! My husband also bought me a GPS because of the number of SOS calls I make to him asking for directions to the same destination.”
Hormonal surges, particularly increased levels of progesterone which can often cause headaches, mood swings and fatigue, are thought to be a culprit in baby brain. Other contributing factors are believed to be changes to routine, sleep deprivation and the increased appetite caused by pregnancy.
The effects of the condition vary vastly among expectant and new mothers. They can be as simple as forgetting things (well-known phone numbers, appointments, errands, etc.), misplacing things (losing objects, mistakenly putting clothes in the bin, etc.), or doing things in error (endless possibilities).
I’m rather ashamed to say that I inadvertently shoplifted a sun hat and socks having stashed them in the Phil and Teds’ hood for safekeeping. I genuinely got preoccupied at the till, where I was exchanging other items to the tune of my baby’s tired tones, and only discovered the loot on opening up the buggy again later that day. (In my defense, I called the shop to admit the theft and to settle the debt.)
Some of the stories from my friends, who shall remain nameless, are other typical examples of the outcomes – leaving front doors wide open or not locking them when going out; putting toilet paper in the fridge; walking out of the supermarket without paying for items consumed on the way around; driving off with the buggy left sitting in the car park; and possibly even forgetting a child’s date of birth. Don’t dare try to tell me that there’s no reason or rationale for intelligent women suddenly becoming ditsy and distracted like this!
Do you know the TV add currently running on RTÉ for McDonald’s Breakfast? The one where the bathrobe-clad woman puts the milk in the washing machine and another two-odd-shoe-wearing woman tries to pull the push door before being ushered into the restaurant by a smiley McD’s staffer? I confess that when I first saw the ad, I thought it was an awareness-raising campaign for baby brain!
I’ve read that this dilemma of ditherhood is only temporary although the Australian study cited above suggests that memory may be impaired for up to a year after birth. However, as I look at my two-year-old toddler wearing his shoes on the wrong feet, I wonder if this is entirely accurate!
We at Haute Mama would love to hear your thoughts and experiences so please send us your comments or stories…