It’s a common belief that pregnant women, or those that have recently given birth, have what’s termed as “baby brain”, or sometimes “pregnancy brain”. It is said that “baby brain” makes a woman less sharp, more forgetful and overall, just cognitively impaired.
Is there truth to this? Recent research by Katherine Tombeau Cost, a psychology researcher at the University of Toronto in the U.S., argues against it.
Tombeau Cost analyzed several past studies on the baby brain phenomenon. She was surprised to find that the studies only had subjective assessments backing up their claim. There was no objective evidence. And in fact, she even found that there could be some cognitive benefits to being pregnant.
In an older study, rats who have just given birth were found to have better foraging abilities than before they were mothers. Author of the research Craig Kinsley, a psychology professor at University of Richmond in the U.S., says that greater cognitive ability for new moms makes sense from both an evolutionary and biological perspective.
Inspired by Kinsley’s study, Tombeau Cost tested out the spatial memory in human mothers. Results showed no difference; there was no improvement nor was their impairment. Tombeau Cost speculates that this may be due to a lack of need for better spatial memory in human mothers. Better social skills would be a more useful skill for human mothers, she continued.
Her findings are similar to the ones shown by a small study published in mid-2015 conducted by neuroscientists from Brigham Young University in the U.S. In their research, they found that there were no significant differences between the cognitive functioning of pregnant and post-partum women, and of non-pregnant women.
They tested 21 pregnant woman and 21 non-pregnant women on their memory, problem-solving skills and comprehension. In all of the areas, the women from both groups all performed at the same level.
Surprisingly, even though they were doing fine, the pregnant women claimed they felt like they performed below par. Society is to blame, said Michael Larson, lead author of the study.
“There’s a big stereotype out there that when you get pregnant… you’re not going to perform as well, and especially that your memory will go down,” Larson said. “That stereotype definitely plays a big role, in our interpretation, in why they feel they’re not doing as well.”
There is a need for larger experiments to find out more about the baby brain, specifically the cognitive improvements it brings, expressed Tombeau Cost.
“You’re about to do some very demanding work,” she told Quartz, “So the idea of ‘baby brain,’ and that the mother would become impaired, doesn’t make much sense.”
Sources: Jan. 10, 2016. "Scientists think “baby brain” makes women smarter and more organized, not less". qz.com Jan 12, 2015. "Rethinking a Stereotype: Baby Brain May Actually Make Moms Smarter". parenting.com