Brain Power: How Pregnancy Makes You Smarter

Now that you are pregnant, you may have heard stories about a variety of different pregnancy symptoms that can affect pregnant women. One of the most popular stories is about how pregnant women become scatterbrained and forgetful as their pregnancy progresses. While you may have experienced a few forgetful moments throughout your pregnancy, there is now evidence that supports that pregnancy and motherhood may actually make you smarter. Here is the lowdown on the brain-boosting powers of pregnancy!

Pregnancy and Memory Loss
Many women report symptoms of memory loss and forgetfulness throughout their pregnancies. In fact, about 50% of pregnant women admit to episodes of absentmindedness, particularly in the third trimester. You may find your self misplacing your keys or temporarily losing your glasses; some women report missing scheduled appointments or even forgetting information that they learned just hours before. This type of memory loss is often referred to as short-term memory loss and may be the result of:

  • lack of restful sleep during pregnancy
  • trying to learn a lot of information in a short span of time
  • general pregnancy discomfort

Though you may feel like you are losing your mind thanks to these scatterbrained moments, there is now evidence to the contrary. In fact, it appears that pregnant women actually gain brainpower throughout pregnancy! So ignore those momentary memory lapses, and focus on how your pregnancy is actually making you smarter!

How Pregnancy Makes You Smarter: The Study
A recent study performed at the University of Richmond and Randolph-Macon College in Virginia illustrates that pregnancy brainpower actually doesn’t decline at all during pregnancy. Neuroscientists examined the activities of pregnant mice, rats, and humans and found that all three showed significant increases in mental acuity and memory throughout pregnancy and after giving birth. Specifically, the researchers noticed that the pregnant mice and rats:

  • had more energy
  • were more curious
  • ran mazes more quickly
  • retained detailed information for longer periods of time

Human subjects in the study also showed increased brainpower. Specifically, the pregnant women showed:

  • increased visual acuity
  • improved sense of smell

Why The Boost in Brain Power?
The neuroscientists involved in the pregnancy and memory study found that the hormones released throughout the nine months of pregnancy and during breastfeeding actually contributed directly to this increase in brain power. The hormone oxytocin, which is released in large amounts during pregnancy, appeared to directly affect the structure of the brain, allowing pregnant animals to experience improved brain communication. Brain changes included:

  • Increased Dendrites: Researchers reported a doubling of the number of dendrites in the pregnant animals in the study. Dendrites are the connections in the brain that allow neurons to communicate with one another. The more dendrites a person has, the better the different areas of the brain can communicate.
  • Increased Glial Cells: Researchers also reported that the pregnant animals had twice the number of glial cells in their brain as non-pregnant animals. Glial cells also play a role in brain communication, acting as signal transmitters for different areas of the brain.

Is this Improved Memory Permanent?
One of the most significant findings of this and other pregnancy and memory studies is that the added brainpower caused by pregnancy appears to be permanent. Increased memory retention and improved cognition appear to continue throughout motherhood; in fact, parenting only seems to contribute to a woman’s brain power, allowing her to become:

  • increasingly motivated
  • less fearful
  • more empathetic
  • better able to multitask and prioritize

What About Men?
Women aren’t the only ones who appear to benefit mentally from pregnancy and parenthood. Men also appear to show increased mental performance, however, this occurs on a much lower scale than it does in women. In particular, men seem to show an increased ability to empathize with others. This is believed to be the result of an increase in estrogen and prolactin that occurs in men just prior to labor and delivery.

Getting the Most out of Your Memory
In order to help you stay as sharp as possible throughout pregnancy, here are a few tips to keep in mind!

  • Get Your Sleep: Sleep is essential when it comes to brain function and brain power. This is because sleep helps your frontal cortex (which helps to keep you alert) "reboot" for the next day.
  • Talk to Others: Though you may be tempted to spend the last few months of pregnancy at home, it is important that you get out and socialize. According to the National Institutes of Health, having a strong social network is key to good mental function.
  • Eat Your Veggies: Vegetables are full of antioxidants, which help to keep the mind and body young. Eat lots of leafy green vegetables, broccoli, and spinach to keep your mind in tip-top condition!
  • Get Some Exercise: Pregnancy can sometimes make it difficult to exercise, but it is a good idea to get out for some moderate exercise once in a while. Exercise helps to get your heart pumping and blood flowing, which ensures that your brain gets enough oxygen and nutrients to stay sharp! Talk to your health care provider about pregnancy exercises that are safe for you .

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