You’ve gotten forgetful. You walk into a room and can’t remember what you went there for. You can’t seem to focus. You don’t seem to be thinking clearly. You don’t remember where you put things, or if you even had those things in the first place. You’ve gotten forgetful, and now you’re repeating yourself.
This “brain fog of pregnancy” is reported by many women during their pregnancy. Many say they have problems with memory or concentration during their pregnancies, but research studies have produced mixed results as to whether this absent-mindedness or fogginess really exists.1-3
As with most of the other annoyances of pregnancy, you can probably blame mental fogginess on hormones, but there may also be other causes.4
Hormone levels change a lot during pregnancy, both from your pre-pregnant body and over the course of your pregnancy. Levels of the hormones progesterone and estrogen surge during pregnancy and both are known to affect the neurons in your brain. Later in pregnancy, levels of another hormone called oxytocin, which also affects your brain, also rise.
But the effects hormones have on the workings of your brain may be indirect as well as direct. Remember (if you can), that pregnancy often interferes with how well you sleep. Lousy sleep can be due to either anxiety issues or to hormones, or both, but lack of sleep or poor sleep can play tricks with memory and concentration even for those who are not pregnant.
Another cause for your brain fog may be simple distraction. You have a lot on your mind, what with looking forward to giving birth, planning for the baby, and juggling the other parts of your life. What other time in your life has had you needing to remember doctor’s appointments every couple of weeks? When your attention is divided, you start dropping some of the balls that you normally juggle with ease.
So what can you do, outside of wait it out until you have your baby?
First, go easy on yourself. Don’t start berating yourself for forgetting things or missing appointments. If it happens, it happens, and being hard on yourself over it will just stress you out more.
Second, even if you never needed a to-do list or had to keep a calendar before you were pregnant, do it now. Write things down if you need to remember something. Make lists. Post notes in nice bright colors to yourself that you can’t miss. Or go high-tech; your smartphone, tablet, or computer can help you here. Set up alarms that remind you to take your prenatal vitamins. Use calendars that tell you when all your doctor or business appointments are.
Lastly, try to get enough sleep. This could help your mental sharpness and it certainly couldn’t hurt.
If you really feel utterly dazed and confused, talk to your doctor or midwife. Don’t take any over-the-counter or herbal remedies that claim to help your brain before you discuss it with them.
- De Groot RHM, Hornstra G, Roozendaal N, et al.: Memory performance, but not information processing speed, may be reduced during early pregnancy. J Clin Exp Neuropsych. 2003; 482-488.
- Henry JD, Rendell PG: A review of the impact of pregnancy on memory function. J Clin Exp Neuropsych. 2007; 793-803.
- Farrar D, Tuffnell D, Neill J, et al.: Assessment of cognitive function across pregnancy using CANTAB: A longitudinal study. Brain Cogn. 2014 Feb;84(1):76-84.
- Mann D. Pregnancy brain: Myth or Reality?