When new moms are sometimes forgetful or spacey, it is often attributed to ‘baby brain’ or ‘mumnesia’ or some other clever appellation that reinforces the idea that pregnancy leads to memory loss. It’s another variation on the women-are-ruled-by-hormones meme. In my humble opinion, the sleep deprivation that often accompanies late pregnancy and life with a newborn is a far more likely cause of memory loss.
While the research team at the Centre for Mental Health Research of the Australian National University didn’t investigate my theory, their research found no evidence that pregnancy or motherhood affects women’s brain power.
Professor Christensen’s team recruited 1,241 women aged 20-24 in 1999 and 2003 and asked them to perform a series of tasks. The women were followed up at four-year intervals and asked to perform the same cognitive tests. A total of 77 women were pregnant at the follow-up assessments, 188 had become mothers and 542 remained childless. The researchers found no significant differences in cognitive change for those women who were pregnant or new mothers during the assessments and those who were not.
The researchers suggest that previous findings that appear to confirm the ‘baby brain’ phenomenon are likely due to biased sampling. Their study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, was the first time women had been recruited from the general population before pregnancy.