I didn’t really believe the “pregnancy brain” theory. And then one day, I was backing up my car—the same car and the same driveway and the same rock retaining wall that I had successfully avoided for years—and I completely spaced out and hit that wall. And the next week, I parked my car at a friend’s house and just left the car door open, went into their house, visited for a while, and then discovered my mistake upon leaving. It went on and on—just little things, like lost keys, missing purse, forgetting to return calls. I even went to the wrong airport once and nearly missed a flight. I thought I was losing my mind.
And it’s not just me—thousands, maybe millions of mothers-to-be report feeling especially forgetful and absent-minded during pregnancy. But studies show that the brain is unchanged during pregnancy. So what’s the story?
Lack of sleep: The first reason you’re probably losing things and forgetting appointments and shopping list items is because of poor sleeping habits. Maybe you’re uncomfortable due to the pregnancy. Or possibly you’re stressed at the thought of becoming a parent. Maybe you’re stressed because you already have a child or children and you’re wondering how the family dynamic will change. You’re also probably thinking of all the things you need to do to prepare for the new arrival. Lack of sleep is a very common cause of forgetfulness and inability to concentrate.
Hormones: Your hormones are also going crazy during pregnancy. Author Denise Mann cites a recent study that finds hormones may affect spatial memory. Mann also talked with the director of the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic at the University of California. The doctor stated “There are 15 to 40 times more progesterone and estrogen marinating in the brain during pregnancy, and these hormones affect all kinds of neurons in the brain” (qtd. in Mann, 2010).
Will you ever get your normal brain back? It’s hard to say. Once your child starts sleeping well and your hormones even out, it seems like that’s the inevitable outcome. But I’m still waiting. In the meantime, I write everything down— I have lists for everything. I put every appointment, event, party, birthday, or anything in my Outlook calendar and set reminders. I add appointments to my phone and text myself reminders. I still end up slapping my forehead more than I care to, but it’s slowly getting better. At least my car hasn’t been damaged lately!