Friday, March 5, 2010

Oops, now where did I leave my brain?

Baby brain has been a handy excuse for pregnant women for years, but new research suggests it’s all in our head

It was a morning just like any other.
I got up slowly, and with blurred vision and that half-asleep stagger, I made my way to the bathroom.
I picked up my razor (which, let’s face it, doesn’t see much action when you’re pregnant) and carefully and skillfully started shaving off my eyebrows.
One at a time, the hair came off and I looked at myself in the mirror admiring the fact that I now had not one hair between my eyelashes and the top of my forehead.

And then... I woke up.
In a panic, I instinctively felt my face to make sure my eyebrows were still in their rightful place.
But my dream seemed so real.
Welcome to the world of the pregnant woman... where dreams seem real and putting the milk in the pantry is a regular occurrence.
“Baby brain” has been well documented and one of the common symptoms listed in the classic What to Expect When You’re Expecting guide by Heidi E. Murkoff.
Absentmindedness is very common during pregnancy and a report published in The Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing found that 82 per cent of women surveyed reported some type of absentmindedness or inability to concentrate during pregnancy.
Feeling forgetful, daydreaming or brain fog is often attributed to a change in hormone levels.
Hormones have a powerful influence on our bodies, including the brain, and pregnancy is a time of dramatic hormonal changes.
Some theories suggest that low iron levels and stress are also contributing factors.
Whatever the cause, baby brain gets worse as the pregnancy progresses, and you start to become more preoccupied with the impending birth and caring for a new baby.
You might be worried about labour, family dynamics (if you have other young children to care for), family finances, the baby’s health, and how you will handle motherhood.
Sleep will probably become more erratic (3am trips to the toilet don’t help) so you are going to be even more tired during the day.
So baby brain is perfectly normal and will probably last for several months after the baby is born due to sleep deprivation.
However last month a team of researchers at the Australian National University said they had debunked the “baby brain” myth.
Their 20-year study on health and ageing analysed the mental function of a group of women before and during pregnancy and in the early stages of motherhood.
The women were given memory and cognitive speed tests three times over eight years, but were not told they were being tested for a pregnancy study.
“When they’re doing the cognitive test they don’t know that it’s out to prove that they’ve lost their marbles or otherwise,” said lead researcher Helen Christensen.
While the study had found some limited impact on cognitive speed in late pregnancy, Christensen said the results showed that carrying a baby had “pretty much no permanent effects” on a woman’s mental function.
“I think that people have the tendency to blame the fact that they’re pregnant on normal lapses of memory which happen all the time to us anyway,” she said.
“Not so long ago, pregnancy was ‘confinement’ and motherhood meant the end of career aspirations.
“Our results show that mothers are the intellectual equal of their contemporaries.”
Hmm... while I’m happy to hear I’m not losing my marbles, I am slightly miffed at not being able to blame my forgetfulness on my unborn child.
Although I’m grateful I still have my eyebrows!

Tips for overcoming baby brain:
1. Get organised. Become a list maker, use your diary, calendar or phone to keep track of day to day events, and stick to routine (put the keys in the same place every day, so you’ll always know where they are).
2. Don’t overdo it. Now is not the time to start working 12-hour days, volunteer for a big project or host a big dinner party. Learn to say “no”.
3. Get plenty of rest and eat well. Sleep-in whenever you can.
4. Treat yourself. Find time for yourself to daydream or pamper yourself with a walk on the beach, yoga class, massage or a hobby you enjoy.


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