What actually is baby brain?

‘Bridesmaid-dress gate’ is the now infamous row between Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle – which took place before her wedding to Prince Harry.

In his bombshell memoir, Spare, the Prince weighed in on the argument, writing that Kate got upset after Meghan claimed she must have ‘baby brain’.

Kate was said to be ‘offended’ by the remark, and said: ‘You talked about my hormones. We are not close enough for you to talk about my hormones!’

While the public may never know what happened between to the two, ‘baby brain’ is a phrase that often gets banded around – but is it actually a thing? And what does it mean?

What is baby brain?

According to the Mayo Clinic, ‘baby brain’, also known as ‘pregnancy brain’, refers to ‘memory problems, poor concentration or absent-mindedness’ that is reported by women during their pregnancy and in the early stages of motherhood.

But ‘baby brain’ is not actually a scientific term. Dr Amit Shah, a gynaecologist and the co-founder of the Harley Street clinic, Fertility Plus, said: ‘Often, the described symptoms can only be felt or perceived by women and people close to them. 

‘However, baby brain may also be associated with, and a byproduct, of being a busy mum with a toddler or an infant, who is overworked and anxious – or at times even depressed due to post-natal depression.’

The symptoms can be triggered by a change in hormones, sleep deprivation as well as stress or anxiety.

And it’s pretty common. A recent review of 20 studies assessing more than 700 pregnant and 500 not pregnant women concluded that general cognitive functioning, memory and executive functioning were significantly poorer in pregnant women. 

‘This demonstrates that ‘baby brain’ is something many pregnant women will come across during pregnancy.

When does ‘baby brain’ start?

Health and wellness expert, Tyler Woodard, of Eden’s Gate, told Metro.co.uk: ‘Baby brain is usually something that pregnant women discover early on in their pregnancy, and continues to progress throughout pregnancy and sometimes further.’

It can begin as early as the first trimester, because this is when the body will experience a major surge in hormones, Abbas Kanani, a pharmacist from Chemist Click online pharmacy, tells Metro.co.uk.

It’s also common post-pregnancy when women experience a sudden drop in both oestrogen and progesterone, which explains changes in mood, but these are known to level out in the coming months.

So why exactly does this happen?

Medical research has found a link between hormonal fluctuations and cognitive skills. 

‘Pregnancy is commonly known for creating and tampering with a women’s hormones,’ explains Tyler.

‘Pregnancy hormones can change the way a woman thinks, from small day-to-day activities, to forgetfulness and mind fog. 

‘Researchers have discovered that due to a spike in these hormones, your body can react with these symptoms, as it tries to adapt to these new hormones.’

A study published in Nature, Neuroscience about ‘baby brain’ in pregnant women, suggests that huge psychological changes occur in a woman during pregnancy, affecting areas of the brain that help towards social skills, such as day-to-day tasks to remember. 

According to Healthline, the researchers found that when a woman is experiencing ‘baby brain’, there is a shrinkage of grey matter (part of the brain that performs tasks) and the hippocampus (the region associated with memory). 

Are there any positives?

Yes, if you’re pregnant – don’t panic.

‘It seems that changes to the brain play a positive role in building relationships and kindness towards their new-born, forming attachment and family bond,’ says Tyler.

The study that showed women experience grey matter loss, also showed they grew greater feelings of attachments to their infants.

However, there is yet to be any scientific evidence to explain why any of this happens during pregnancy.

Is it a cause for concern?

Dr Amit says that ‘new mothers can rest assured the combination of overwhelming changes that take place in body and mind will eventually settle down.’

But if your symptoms are affecting everyday life, Abbas recommends speaking to a medical professional about specific symptoms and treatment options.

‘Baby brain is a term that not everyone will like, as it can be perceived as having negative connotations towards pregnancy, and how this can affect a woman’s brain.

‘However, research has shown that ‘baby brain’ can be a positive sign towards a woman mentally preparing themselves for motherhood, and therefore leading to caring and nurturing their baby.’

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