A new study is throwing further weight behind the phenomenon known as "baby brain," where pregnant women report an absent-mindedness and decline in memory. The study is claimed to confirm once and for all that baby brain is indeed a genuine ailment, and it is also claimed to be the first to explore how it might affect areas of brain function beyond memory alone.

Led by Sasha Davies, a PhD candidate at Australia's Deakin University, the study was set up to investigate the legitimacy of baby brain and how its severity might vary as a woman progresses through the pregnancy. Davies and her team analyzed data from 20 different studies investigating how pregnancy can bring about changes to brain function, which led them to assess the cognitive abilities of 709 pregnant women and 521 non-pregnant women.

The team found that compared to non-pregnant women, the pregnant women performed worse on tasks that measured memory, attention, inhibition, decision-making and planning, and that the gap in performance was largest during the third trimester.

Writing in The Conversation, Davies notes that while there was a gap between the two groups, the pregnant women were still mostly performing in the normal range. Meaning, that they may well notice a change and feel less mentally sharp than normal, but this was unlikely to have a huge impact on their day-to-day lives. Rather, they might find that regular tasks require more mental effort than normal.

Confirming its existence is one thing, but understanding the mechanisms behind baby brain is entirely another. Davies says that further research is needed before we get there, but does highlight a couple of potential starting points.

One is a 2016 study demonstrating changes in the brain structure during pregnancy, namely a reduction in grey matter in brain regions associated with processing social information and memory function. Another is simply the huge hormonal, physical and psychological changes associated with pregnancy, which can affect sleep patterns, mood and stress.

The research was published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Source: The Conversation