Pregnancy brain: Myth or fact?


Have you ever found yourself standing in the middle of a room, bewildered, trying to recall just why you entered in the first place? Or perhaps you’ve spent frantic minutes searching for your wallet and car keys, only to find them in the most obvious spot, where they always are? If you’re pregnant, you might be nodding along, recognizing these scenarios all too well.

Memory lapses, a foggy feeling in your brain, and struggling to keep track of dates and appointments can make you feel like you’re losing your grip on the everyday details that once seemed so simple.

Welcome to the world of “pregnancy brain,” a phenomenon that countless expectant mothers report. But is it a real, scientifically proven condition or just a myth passed down through generations of mothers? Read on to explore what happens to the brain during pregnancy, what causes pregnancy brain, and how you can manage it.

What’s pregnancy brain (or mom brain)?

The pregnancy brain, or as some affectionately call it, “mom brain,” is a phenomenon many new moms experience during pregnancy and in the early stages of motherhood.

It’s like having a temporary foggy brain where forgetfulness, absentmindedness, and difficulty concentrating become the norm. This isn’t just folklore; research suggests hormonal shifts during pregnancy, along with the physical and emotional demands of motherhood, can affect memory, attention, and overall mental sharpness.

So, if you’re a mom-to-be and you forget where you left your keys or why you entered a room, it’s likely just your brain is on baby duty. 

Is pregnancy brain real?

“Yes, pregnant women’s brains literally change during pregnancy,” Dr. Ila Dayananda, MD, OB-GYN and Chief Medical Officer at Oula Health, “There is research suggesting that pregnancy leads to both structural and functional brain alterations, from changes in gray matter volume and connectivity between brain regions to hormonal fluctuations that influence various cognitive processes.”

Another expert, Anna Cabeca, DO, OBGYN, FACOG, says, that there have been numerous studies done on this subject, and agrees that the brain changes during pregnancy.

There is a major hormonal change in the brain, especially with the release of oestradiol in the 3rd trimester, which is the hormone that predisposes women to maternal behaviors. These hormone changes impact not only brain function but also brain structure.”

Anna Cabeca, DO, OBGYN, FACOG, the best-selling author of The Hormone Fix , Keto-Green 16 and MenuPause

Cabeca further shares that there is evidence that shows that the brain decreases in volume during pregnancy, and tends to increase in volume again after giving birth. Some of the changes are temporary, but some are permanent. It’s like each pregnancy leaves an indelible tattoo in the mother’s brain (and body).

What causes pregnancy brain?

According to Dr. Ila Dayananda, “Pregnancy brain, or “momnesia,” is believed to be caused by a combination of:

  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Psychological factors

It’s possible that higher hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone can affect cognitive function and memory, while sleep disruptions common to pregnancy can further contribute to cognitive lapses. A combination of these factors likely makes up “baby brain.”

Cabeca states that when a woman is pregnant, her entire body is preparing for the child – from inception, to growth within her, to the delivery of a healthy baby.

“And the brain is definitely rearranging neurons to be at an optimal state to receive and care for the baby. It’s a process of eliminating certain connections between brain cells to encourage new connections (like caring for a baby).”

She further states that physiologically, it manifests with a decrease in the gray matter which is the nucleus of the neuron. They have not found changes in the white matter (which consists in the highways that carry information).

Simply put, the brain function is altered in order to prepare the woman to become a mother, so that some of the basic care functions can come to her more naturally. You know how we talk about “mother instinct”, it is actually a physiological shift in the brain that helps the mom become more attuned to her child.”

Anna Cabeca, DO, OBGYN, FACOG, the best-selling author of The Hormone Fix , Keto-Green 16 and MenuPause

The hormones that change the brain

Did you know that estrogen and progesterone are the primary hormones during pregnancy and that when you’re pregnant, your body is flooded with 15 to 40 times more progesterone and estrogen than usual?


When you’re pregnant, you’ll produce more estrogen in that one pregnancy than in your entire life when you’re not pregnant. But why do estrogen levels increase increase during pregnancy? 

According to the National Childbirth Trust, your body produces more estrogen during pregnancy to help develop your baby’s organs, blood vessels, and placenta and to ensure its correct function.


Conversely, progesterone levels also increase during pregnancy because progesterone helps your baby differentiate cells and form neural circuits. 

All these increased hormone levels affect your brain’s neurons during pregnancy, giving you a pregnancy brain.

Does your brain shrink during pregnancy?

A study published in Am J Neuroradiol discovered that “The brain decreases in size during pregnancy and increases in size after delivery. The changes follow a consistent time course in each woman.”

Another study led by Elseline Hoekzema, a neuroscientist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, found that although pregnant women experience a loss of gray matter, this might not necessarily be a negative outcome, it may actually refine neural connections to enhance brain efficiency.

One significant area of change is social cognition—the brain’s ability to understand and respond to others’ emotions, which is crucial for a mother interacting with her baby. This enhanced social cognition helps mothers interpret their babies’ needs more effectively. 

However, this shift might come at the expense of spatial cognition. According to Liisa Galea, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, spatial memory can decline during late pregnancy, possibly because it becomes less critical compared to the need for nurturing a newborn. 

Basically, your brain is optimizing all its resources to the areas you’ll need to care for your little one.

Which parts of the brain get the most affected during pregnancy?

The parts of the brain most affected during pregnancy are those associated with memory, emotion regulation, and social cognition. The hippocampus, in particular, is core to memory formation and undergoes changes during pregnancy. Other brain regions involved in processing emotions, including the amygdala, can also be impacted by pregnancy.”

When does pregnancy brain start?

Pregnancy brain typically starts to manifest during the first trimester of pregnancy and may continue throughout the duration of pregnancy and into the postpartum period.

However, the severity and timing of cognitive changes can vary greatly among individuals. Some women may notice cognitive changes early in pregnancy, while others may not experience them until later stages. Additionally, cognitive changes may persist for some time after childbirth before returning to baseline levels.

Signs and symptoms of pregnancy brain

Signs and symptoms of “pregnancy brain” can vary among individuals, but some common experiences include:

  1. Forgetfulness: Difficulty remembering tasks, appointments, or where items are located.
  2. Decreased concentration: Difficulty focusing on tasks or maintaining attention for prolonged periods.
  3. Mental fog: Feeling mentally unclear or slower in thinking processes.
  4. Word-finding difficulties: Trouble recalling words or expressing thoughts verbally.
  5. Misplacing items: Putting objects in unusual or forgotten locations.
  6. Increased emotional sensitivity: Heightened emotional reactions to situations or stimuli.
  7. Reduced multitasking ability: Struggling to manage multiple tasks simultaneously.
  8. Difficulty learning new information: Challenges in absorbing and retaining new knowledge or skills.

It’s important to note that not all pregnant individuals experience pregnancy brain, and the severity of symptoms can vary. Additionally, these symptoms typically improve after childbirth as hormone levels stabilize and the body adjusts to postpartum changes.

What’s the most common misconception about the pregnancy brain?

“One common and harmful misconception about pregnancy brain is that it signifies a permanent decline in cognitive abilities,” says Dr. Dayananda, “In reality, while pregnant women may experience temporary lapses in memory and attention, these changes typically resolve postpartum as hormone levels normalize and sleep patterns begin to improve.”

Cabeca also shares similar thoughts, “I would say the most common misconception is when they say “she keeps forgetting things, she has issues with memory loss” – that is so not the case. The woman’s priority changes radically, and her brain becomes much more selective in terms of what she deems important. And when a woman is pregnant, her main focus is to preserve and protect the child that lives inside her – everything else takes second place.”

10 tips for managing pregnancy brain

One of my favorite tips to give pregnant women is to make sure they are prioritizing adequate sleep. Consistent sleep helps our brains function, heal, and our hormones stay better regulated. Besides that, a balanced and nutrient-rich diet, regular exercise, and mentally stimulating activities are all essential for moms to feel their best and healthiest. If you are feeling out of your depth, consult your healthcare provider.”

Managing the pregnancy brain can help alleviate some cognitive challenges experienced during pregnancy. Here are some tips to help cope with pregnancy brain:

1. Stay organized

Use calendars, to-do lists, or smartphone apps to keep track of appointments, tasks, and important information.

2. Simplify routines

Break tasks into smaller, manageable steps and focus on completing one task at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

3. Establish routines

Stick to regular schedules for activities such as meal times, exercise, and bedtime to promote consistency and reduce cognitive load.

4. Prioritize self-care

Get adequate rest, eat a balanced diet, and engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation to support overall well-being.

5. Delegate tasks

Ask for help from your partner, family members, or friends with household chores, errands, or childcare responsibilities to reduce your workload.

6. Use memory aids

Place frequently used items in designated spots, label containers, or use sticky notes as reminders to help jog your memory.

7. Stay mentally active

Engage in activities that stimulate cognitive function, such as reading, puzzles, or socializing with friends and family

8. Practice mindfulness

Stay present in the moment and focus on one task at a time to enhance concentration and reduce distractions.

9. Communicate openly

Share your experiences with your healthcare provider, partner, or support network to receive understanding and assistance as needed.

10. Be patient and kind to yourself

Recognize that cognitive changes during pregnancy are temporary and normal. Give yourself grace and understanding as you navigate this unique phase of life.

Bonus tip by expert: “Relax, meditate, try to laugh as much as you can, be in gratitude,as all that has a major impact on your brain, she says, “Minimize sugar intake, as you want to avoid the risk of developing gestational diabetes,” says Cabeca.


Now we know that ‘pregnancy brain’ is a real phenomenon experienced by many expectant mothers, characterized by memory lapses and cognitive changes. While it can be frustrating, it’s temporary and typically resolves postpartum. Remember to be patient with yourself, prioritize self-care, and lean on your support network as you navigate this unique journey of motherhood.🤍

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