We’ve all heard of and have maybe even experienced “brain farts” and “brain fog,” with the former being not as serious as the medically recognized latter. Both happen to most people at one time or another.
Pregnant women, however, tend to suffer from “baby brain” especially when they are driving. The part of the brain that helps people navigate a car are smaller during the last month of pregnancy, according to according to a study published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.
“Baby brain” makes them more likely to get confused, say researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany.
The study followed 30 women, all in their 20s, who had never been pregnant, and women who were in their final month of pregnancy. The women were asked to perform memory tests and spatial navigation. The test also included them finding their way through a maze, after being told how to get through it successfully.
The study found there was no significant difference between the women in the memory tests, or the other cognitive challenges. But the pregnant women had a tougher time navigating than the non-pregnant ones.
Brain scans were taken of both groups, and researchers found that the part of the brain, the putamen, which is integral to learning, was smaller in pregnant women.
According to researcher Dr. Nina Lifosky, the findings do not tell what kind of impact they would have outside the research lab, but it does show some tasks, like following directions, could be more difficult for pregnant women.
The study also found that when women rely on using landmarks and their own knowledge of an area, or egocentric navigation (self-to-object), they were less accurate than when they use allocentric navigation (object-to-object). That’s when one uses a compass and gives distances between turns, and abstract ways of seeing a route. Pregnant women are better at this type of navigation, according to the study.
Lifosky says estrogen may be responsible for the “baby brain” phenomenon, since estrogen is high during pregnancy. She said they found that pregnant women’s route memory was altered during different stages of a pregnancy.
Also, she found that the effects of “baby brain” can have a profound impact on women in everyday life, adding that the brain changes shape during pregnancy.