Does "Pregnancy Brain" Actually Exist?
We've got a lot of room to grow as far as our understanding of the brain in general. But the changes it undergoes during and after pregnancy are a particularly interesting mystery. There are conflicting studies on whether "pregnancy brain" even exists, but one thing is for sure: around 80 percent of pregnant women report difficulty with remembering things that had once come naturally. While the cause of this may be unclear, there’s definitely something going on if so many women are sharing a similar experience of forgetfulness while pregnant.
Pregnancy brain usually refers to a decline in cognitive skills, with lapses in memory and attention. But the maternal brain isn’t all bad—it’s actually got some cool enhancements. Emerging studies have suggested that pregnancy initiates neural restructuring. They explain that soon after giving birth there are significant changes to the female brain, with increased activity in the areas vital for emotional regulation, decision-making, and protective instincts.
Many mothers also exhibit blunted physiological and psychological responses to stress, which may offer her and the child protection from the adverse effects of difficult situations.
Even more, pregnant women are better at recognizing certain emotions such as disgust, fear and anger. This vital ability to identify emotions could help mothers ensure the survival of their child.
Pregnancy readies the brain for extreme neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. It allows the brain to adjust and compensate for new situations or changes to the environment.
While there is a cost for these enhancements—the decline in memory and attention—pregnancy marks a point of critical neurodevelopment that endeavors to help women adjust to the challenges of providing for an infant.
We’ve still got a lot to learn about the brain, especially the changes that occur for women while pregnant, but thankfully the research points to the idea that nature is working with us to make the adjustment to parenthood as easy as possible. Some evolutionary biologists have even argued, “the development of maternal behaviours is the primary force shaping the evolution of the mammalian brain.”