Baby brain: true or false?

Recently, I posted a card to my grandmother-in-law for her birthday, and was informed a few days later that she’d had to go to the post office and pay something like £1.50 for it… because it didn’t have a stamp on. Cue lots of laughter, knowing looks, and “you’ve got baby brain” comments. The fact is, I did remember to put a stamp on and know exactly what happened: it fell off in transit, due to my thrifty but unreliable custom of saving unfranked stamps and then re-affixing them onto my own cards and letters using Pritt stick. My loyal Pritt had let me down!

While I rigorously defend myself against the accusation of baby brain regarding this particular incident, other things have happened too: little forgetful episodes… double-booking myself… going blank on people’s names. However, this could very well be described as Cath brain too – I don’t feel like this behaviour is particularly specific to pregnancy, for me anyway. Why else do I keep a diary and make sure my inbox never strays above 20 emails? I’d forget even more things otherwise!

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Baby brain can be summarised as a condition unique to expectant mothers, when the pregnancy-addled brain causes issues such as short-term memory loss and absent-mindedness. However, I have doubts that it exists and, as with hormones, I’m suspicious that many women use it as an excuse for forgetting something that they would have forgotten anyway. Just because Kate Winslet and Myleene Klass have claimed to suffer from it doesn’t mean you have to as well!

The argument for baby brain does sound compelling though, if only to make you feel better about yourself. I read a Daily Mail article which claims that “Baby brain syndrome IS real and it makes you a better mother.” The reasoning behind this is scientific research from California, suggesting that pregnant brains adapt to their situation so that they can better cope with a newborn’s needs following the birth. One consequence of these changes within the brain is that expectant women become less focused on other, more mundane things (such as sticking stamps on). The overall result is that you improve as a mother, as you are concentrated on the baby and more sensitive to it.

On the flipside, what research exists is scant and there is very little proof of this phenomenon. An Australian study found no evidence of baby brain; the conclusions claim that “women ‘tricked themselves’ into thinking they were becoming more absent-minded simply because they had been told this was a likely symptom of pregnancy.”

The website MyBrain cites two more Australian research projects – one of which found no difference between the brains of pregnant and non-pregnant women. The other one found “very, very subtle” differences.

Most interestingly, MyBrain describes an third, American study carried out in 2008 that comes down on the side of the opposite of baby brain! The researcher claims that “having a baby produces a surge of memory and learning ability that makes women more vigilant and alert.” This is backed up by studies on mummy rats and primates, who apparently become much quicker at finding food, with bravery and spatial awareness also improving.

Either way, whether baby brain is an actual scientific occurrence or just a general absent-mindedness that would have happened anyway, I feel that to some extent it is par for the course. I defy any woman to breeze through her pregnancy without forgetting anything. Of course your brain is going to be affected. You’re having a BABY!!!

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