The researchers compared the cognitive function of pregnant and non-pregnant participants in a large prospective trial involving over 1,000 women. The study, published this week in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found no evidence that pregnancy and motherhood cause memory loss.
A number of tests were used to assess four cognitive domains: cognitive speed, working memory, immediate and delayed recall. The data showed no link between pregnancy and memory loss, although women in the later stages of pregnancy experienced a small but significant decline in cognitive speed, which reversed following childbirth.
Pregnancy guidebooks, the media and websites often promote the concept of a ‘baby brain', suggesting that pregnancy causes women to become forgetful. However, this study challenges such beliefs.
‘Women and their partners need to be encouraged to be less automatic in their willingness to attribute common memory lapses to the salient casual factor of a growing or new baby,' the authors concluded.
‘Not so long ago pregnancy was ‘confinement' and motherhood meant the end of career aspirations. Our results challenge the view that mothers are anything other than the intellectual peers of their contemporaries.'
The researchers call on GPs, obstetricians and midwives to use these findings to dispel the myth that memory loss is an inevitable consequence of motherhood, and that perceptions of impairment may reflect emotional or other unknown factors.