How becoming a mum affects your memory

If you've started forgetting things while pregnant or just after giving birth, you're not alone. A new study suggests that "baby brain" is a very real phenomenon

It appears that “baby brain” is no myth after all. New research appears to show that pregnancy does affect a woman’s memory.

The study suggests that memory can be considerably impaired for up to a year after giving birth. Not all aspects of memory are affected, but the memory loss particularly concerns things like the unfamiliar or demanding – in other words, exactly what confronts a new mother or pregnant woman.

“What we found is that memory tasks which are more challenging or more novel, or those that would require multitasking – these types of tasks are likely to be disrupted,” said Dr Julie Henry, a psychology researcher at the University of New South Wales, and co-author of the study.

In the first investigation of its kind, Dr Henry and her colleague, Dr Peter Rendell, of Australian Catholic University, analysed the results of 14 different research studies carried out around the world since 1990. These studies compared the memory performances of more than 1,000 pregnant women, mothers and healthy non-pregnant females.

The new investigation found that pregnant women are significantly impaired on some, but not all, measures of memory, and that the forgetfulness does continue for up to a year after a baby is born.

"Regular, well-practised memory tasks - such as remembering phone numbers of friends and family members - are unlikely to be affected," says Associate Professor Rendell, whose research is published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology. "It's a different story, though, when you have to remember new phone numbers, people's names or hold in mind several different pieces of information, such as when multi-tasking ."

However, the researchers were not able to say exactly why this memory loss happens - it may be due to hormones or lifestyle factors.

As most women will recognise, having a baby causes a seismic lifestyle shift – there’s so much going on in her life, she gets less sleep, and fatigue definitely affects memory and cognitive behaviour.

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