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  • Dr Peter Chew

“Pregnancy brain”! What is it?!

“Doc, let me tell you a funny incident,” B said jokingly. "I was trying to get the microwave oven to work the other day. I kept pushing the start button but it would not turn on. I felt so frustrated that I yelled at my husband for help. He calmly walked over, closed the oven door, pressed the start key and bingo, it was on. I then realised that I forgot to shut the door!”


B, a 32-year-old first time mum in her second trimester told me this story during her routine antenatal check-up. She was worried whether the memory lapse would deteriorate later in the last trimester and get worse during her postnatal period.


Forgetfulness during pregnancy or “pregnancy brain” is quite common and is present in about 50 and 80 percent of expectant mothers. The memory loss is usually subtle and can affect women differently at various times of their pregnancy. In general, the memory decline appears to start during the first trimester and then remains stable till the end of the pregnancy. In some cases, it may last up to a year after birth. For reasons unknown, some studies have shown that women pregnant with girls are, on average, more forgetful than those carrying boys.


A study in England has also found that the spatial memory—the memory that tells us how to plan a route to a desired location and to remember where an object is located or where an event occurred is slightly impaired during pregnancy.


Researchers have suggested that the memory loss could result from the hormonal and lifestyle changes. High levels of sex hormones circulating in the body during pregnancy could have a negative impact on the nerve cells in the brain responsible for memory. Expectant mothers are probably more preoccupied with the upcoming birth and may be anxious about the changing lifestyles after the baby is born. Stress and anxiety would interfere with the ability to concentrate and remember things. The fatigue and the difficulty in getting quality sleep may further aggravate the situation. All these factors would definitely make cognitive performance worse.


Although “pregnancy brain” does not appear to be permanent, a small study using MRI has shown that some grey matter, the outer layer of the brain containing the nerve cells, was reduced during pregnancy. I told B that in order to improve her memory, she should:

· Keep a daily calendar,

· Schedule alerts for important meetings, · Use a note-taking app or carry a note book,

· Ask the husband or friends for help when needed,

· Reduce stress, exercise regularly and have adequate rest and sleep,

· Eat a balanced diet especially DHA -rich food.


B seemed to take it seriously after the consult and asked her husband to take note of the steps I had suggested to boost her memory.

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