Forgetfulness During Pregnancy: Dealing with Pregnancy Brain (Brain Fog)

Feeling fuzzy, forgetful and out of sorts? Are you pregnant Many soon-to-be moms report these symptoms during pregnancy.

“Hoo boy, did I ever have that,” says Sharon Wren, mother of two boys from East Moline, Ill. “Actually, that’s how I knew [son] No. 2 was coming, even before I took the test. I said ‘Either I’m losing my mind or I’m pregnant again.'”

With her first pregnancy, Wren reports that she once forgot where she lived – after living there for years. “I didn’t panic because I knew I had my driver’s license in my purse and I could always look up my address,” she says.

What Is Baby Brain?

According to Dr. Robert Greene, a reproductive endocrinologist and OB/GYN from Redding, Calif., some common brain-related symptoms of pregnancy include forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and reduced coordination. “These are caused by natural shifts in hormones that are usually benign,” says Dr. Greene, author of Perfect Hormone Balance for Pregnancy (Three Rivers Press, 2007).

We can’t know how long “baby brain” has been around, but judging by responses to requests for these experiences, it’s very common now. And it’s probably not pregnancy that has changed, but that women have changed.

“These symptoms are probably more noticeable today as women tend to push themselves harder,” Dr. Greene says. “Maybe even more important, many women don’t have as much support from friends or family as they did in previous generations. To compound matters further, our diet has changed dramatically over the last 50 years – and generally not for the better. Biology hasn’t changed but everything else has.”

“I was in a perpetual dream state where time stood still,” says Shannon Rosenberg of Wesley Hills, N.Y. “My twins became my clock and I constantly lost track of what day it was. When I noticed I was missing appointments because I couldn’t remember which day it was, I started to ‘X’ days on the calendar every night before I got into bed.”

Tobi-Dawne Yandt’s experience with forgetfulness was more specific. “A breeder I’ve known for years walked by [at a dog show] with one of her dogs,” says Yandt, who is currently pregnant with her first child and lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. “For the life of me I couldn’t come up with her name. I’ve known her for five plus years, and I couldn’t come up with her name or her kennel name.” By the next day, the name came to her.

Julie Bonn Heath, mom of three from Seaside, Ore., experienced “baby brain” in various ways. She put vitamins in the refrigerator instead of the cupboard (catching it the next day), went to the store to get milk and came home with everything but (four times!) and drove 20 miles before realizing she had gone in the opposite direction from her destination. “[Once I even] dropped my cell phone in a puddle [and] then forgot to pick it up,” she says. “And yes, I saw it go down!”

When Does Forgetfulness During Pregnancy Occur?

The timing of “baby brain” really seems to vary from mom to mom.

For Sue Nading of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who felt just not “with it” during pregnancy, the fuzzy feelings lasted from the first trimester until the about midway through the second trimester. “Things cleared up in the last trimester and I was ready to roll,” she says.

Rosenberg, however, felt her “pregnancy brain” didn’t start until later, around the six- to seven-month mark, when her twin pregnancy made it difficult to get sufficient sleep.

Dr. Greene says the most important hormonal changes occur in the first trimester with a steady rise of the hormone progesterone, which can be very sedating. Thyroid levels also drop. “This one-two punch can create the earliest symptoms of what is often called pregnancy brain,” Dr. Green says. “A combination of forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, slowed thought processing and even dizziness.”

By the third trimester, progesterone’s effects have typically diminished, but rising levels of the hormone estriol can cause pregnancy brain to evolve into verbal memory problems, difficulty recalling recent events and mood changes. “Not everyone experiences symptoms like these, and when they do occur, their impact can vary not only from one person to another but even from one pregnancy to the next,” Dr. Green says.

This was definitely the case for Nading. “With my first two pregnancies I had those [baby brain] feelings,” she says. “With my third and fourth pregnancies I actually felt really good.”

Andrea Burnett had problems with memory loss during her pregnancy – and, in some ways, feels it continues even now that her twins are 9 months old. “In a work situation it’s horrifying,” says Burnett from Richmond, Calif. “For instance, once I was called on by my manager in a room full of my colleagues to speak about something, and I swear I didn’t have the foggiest recollection of what I was supposed to talk about. It’s like one of those dreams where you find yourself back in high school naked in math class, faced with a pop quiz and you didn’t study for the test. Needless to say, it’s embarrassing.”

Dr. Greene assures moms that everything should return to normal once menstrual cycles resume. However, more severe symptoms, such as blackouts, fainting, physical impairment or slurred speech, should always be discussed with your physician, as they may be a sign of something more serious.

Dealing with Pregnancy Brain “Brain Fog”

Dr. Lillian Schapiro, an obstetrician from Atlanta, offers some tips on how to cope with the brain fog that can happen with pregnancy:

  • Take naps if you can.
  • Keep lists. Make copies of your lists. Put them on the computer so you can retrieve them if lost.
  • Keep your keys in the same place every day.
  • Make notes.
  • Be organized.
  • Stay hydrated. Blood is flowing to your growing uterus and you need to keep the volume up to get blood to your brain.
  • Keep your blood count up with iron-rich food so that your blood is carrying maximum oxygen to your brain.
  • Regular, moderate exercise helps with blood flow.
  • Don’t overdo it. Remember, you are growing an entire human being (or two or more!) inside of you and that takes physical and mental energy.

Dr. Schapiro reminds us that many women continue to be quite effective during pregnancy, and there are many contradictions and controversy regarding the effects of pregnancy on the brain. She indicated one study showing that pregnant women in the second trimester function better than non-pregnant, while another study showed that the second trimester has the most memory loss of all the trimesters. Thus, the matter may be quite subjective.

Read here about amazing things happen during your trimester

If you were to test those ‘forgetful’ women, they would do quite well,” says Dr. Schapiro, who wrote most of her novel, Tick Tock (iUniverse, Inc., 2005), while pregnant. She feels that being pregnant actually sharpened her mind and helped her write her book. “The increased estrogen really spurred my creativity and the increased norepinephrine gave me energy,” she says.

Content provided on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be construed to be medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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