PROVO — Forget your keys? Bad news, pregnant women. Science says you can’t blame “baby brain” any longer.
After finding no significant differences between the cognitive functioning of pregnant and post-partum women and that of non-pregnant women, neuroscientists at Brigham Young University recently released a study declaring “pregnancy brain,” the common explanation for pregnant women’s ubiquitous forgetfulness, a myth.
Researchers administered a three-hour cognitive assessment to 42 women — 21 pregnant, 21 not. Subjects were evaluated in several cognitive areas, including memory, comprehension and problem-solving.
In every area of assessment, pregnant women were found to perform just as well as their counterparts.
“Overall, when you look at all the tests together, they really were doing fine,” said Dr. Michael Larson, the study’s lead author.
But the women didn’t seem to think so. When asked to subjectively rate their memory or quality of life, pregnant women consistently gave themselves lower grades than their non-pregnant peers.
Larson chalked this disparity up to cultural pressures.
“There’s a big stereotype out there that when you get pregnant you’re not going to perform as well, and especially that your memory will go down,” Larson said. “That stereotype definitely plays a big role, in our interpretation, in why they feel they’re not doing as well.”
John McCarter, a local OB-GYN, supported Larson's theory.
“Pregnancy brain is a social concept that we’ve come up with to explain forgetfulness,” McCarter said. “There is not a physiological process going.”
But some women aren’t convinced.
Cheryl Nyman needed only two words to sum up her skepticism: "Oh, bunk."
"I’m a mother and a grandmother, and I think (pregnancy brain) is a real thing," Nyman said. "It changes the way you operate and the way you think."
"Pregnancy brain isn’t a myth," agreed Alexis Torres, who is seven months pregnant with her first child. "It doesn’t matter what the doctors say — when you’re pregnant, you forget things."
And despite the study's findings, McCarter said, he regularly sees symptoms of pregnancy brain in his patients. Rather than any chemical shortcoming, though, the OB-GYN said he attributes that forgetfulness to the stresses of pregnancy.
"A pregnant woman is now thinking about taking her prenatal vitamins and when her appointment is and all the questions she needs to ask her doctor," McCarter said. "That shift in priorities and things that she’s doing? Yeah, it makes it more difficult to remember all of that."
"In that aspect, I think there is a type of pregnancy brain," McCarter conceded.
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