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Researchers are studying the effects of pregnancy on brain function
In pregnancy, women develop changes in the brain that affect more than just the memory. In the past, many pregnant women have reported having forgetfulness and inattentiveness. These effects triggered by changes in the brain have now been scientifically proven by researchers.
In their current study, scientists found that changes in brain function during pregnancy are a real phenomenon. These changes affect several cognitive areas. The doctors published the results of their investigation in the English-language journal "The Medical Journal of Australia".
Experts analyze the data from 20 studies
For their investigation, the physicians analyzed the combined data from a total of 20 different studies that described the relationship between pregnancies and changes in the brain. The researchers examined the differences in the cognitive functions of 709 pregnant women and 521 women without pregnancy.
Pregnant women performed worse on memory tests
The current study is the first to examine how pregnancy affects other cognitive areas outside of memory, the experts say. In particular, it was a question of whether these changes could vary depending on the trimester of pregnancy. The results show that pregnant women perform much worse compared to non-pregnant women when measuring memory and executive functions (including attention, decision-making and planning). This difference is particularly pronounced in the third trimester.
Identified effects have no dramatic impact on everyday life
When women were examined at multiple times during their pregnancy, the decline began in the first trimester of pregnancy and then stabilized from the middle to the end of the pregnancy, the scientists explain. However, it should be noted that the observed differences in pregnant women were still in the normal range, albeit at the lower end of this range, the experts add. The effects observed in pregnant women therefore have no dramatic impact on everyday life. Affected women will usually just find that more mental effort is required to perform routine tasks.
Gray matter in the brains of pregnant women was reduced
The changes can certainly be noticed by people close to pregnant women, but this depends very much on the personal experience of every woman in relation to pregnancy, the doctors explain. A study published earlier in the journal "Neuroscience" showed that in pregnant women the so-called gray matter was reduced in the areas of the brain associated with the processing of social information. The changes in the brains of pregnant women could play an important role in preparing the women concerned for the upbringing of their children and their new role as mothers, the study authors suspect.
Gray matter losses are recovered over time
The same study also found that gray matter losses in the hippocampus are restored two years after the birth of a child. This supports the assumption that the cognitive decline observed is not permanent. There are still a few questions to be answered in order to learn more about this phenomenon. For example, it is unclear whether the changes during pregnancy extend into early parenthood and how long they could last.
Pregnancy is a time of massive changes
The underlying mechanisms are still unclear and offer scope for speculation. When women experience major hormonal changes during pregnancy, the increased hormones estrogen, progesterone and oxytocin are likely to play an important role in these cognitive changes, the experts explain. Other factors can also contribute, such as interrupted sleep patterns, mood swings, increased stress levels, and morning sickness, the researchers add. Pregnancy is a time of massive physical, psychological and social changes. It is therefore not really surprising that this affects mothers and that they are occasionally distracted. (as)