Thursday, 18 June 2009

Baby brain

A friend of mine is expecting her third baby, and recently told me about her habit of hormonal weeping while pregnant. One of the things that sets her off into an inexplicable bout of sobbing is Extreme Home Makeovers.

I had to laugh. 'Baby brain' affected another friend of mine, who worked in a fish and chip shop while pregnant. A customer handed her five bucks, but her addled brain couldn't calculate the change. So the customer tried to convince her that he was owed ten dollars' change from a fiver, as the other customers giggled. My friend knew there was something wrong with this theory, but couldn't quite put her finger on it - so burst into tears in the middle of the shop.

My brushes with baby brain have been many. I had tough pregnancies (bad morning sickness and depression), but there were also fleeting moments of floating about with a gormless sense of wellbeing which was actually pretty pleasant. In one costly incident I was out driving, listening to my new 'Power Ballads' CD and singing along with all the 80s-inspired passion I could muster. I mistook a 'passing land ends now' sign for a 'passing lane ends in 200 metres' sign, and did a really crappy overtaking manoevre - past an off duty cop, who very promptly radioed his mates to intercept my shenanigans. And they did. All the hormonal sobbing in the world could not dissuade the officer who stopped me from giving me a (heartily deserved) $150 fine.

I've seen different theories about baby brain: that it's caused by physiological changes in pregnant women's brains, or that it happens simply because growing a baby makes you tired. It's the sort of thing - like PMS - that could be used to question a woman's competence. Is that justified? Who else has experienced baby brain, and what are your theories?


barvasfiend said...

Tiredness. I'm baby-brained to the hilt right now, and I swear it feels no different to those good old days of working three jobs and studying full time and wedging in 2am drinking sessions with my reprobate friends.

I've always said that men get it too, only no-one calls it "Friday morning following seven beers and a spliff brain" when they are at work.

To be clear, it's called baby brain because only women get it.

Maia said...

I thought research tended to show that women's cognitive abilities didn't worsen when they were pregnant: (I'm sure there are better articles out there, that was just the first on my google search).

Which doesn't mean that being pregnant doesn't change women's experiences of how their brain works. But just that on average the effect of pregnancy isn't too diminish women's cognitive performance.

Although there could be a lot of false positives out there. When the meme of 'baby brain' is out there, women might categorise things things that happen when they're pregnant as 'baby brain', even though they also happened when they're not pregnant.

Trouble said...

I haven't experienced any perceptible cognitive failure. Hell, I've managed a successful hard drive format and Windows reinstall. My response to stress has changed though, and I'm more likely to lose my equilibrium.

The other thing though, is the distraction. Keeping an eye or a hand on wherever I'm getting kicked at the moment is often more interesting than the conversation I'm trying to follow. It's like having a mobile phone in your pocket going off on vibrate every so often, and we know what mobile phones do to people's driving ability.

Anna said...

I think tiredness is probably most plausible - and when you think about what's actually involved in growing a baby, it's not surprising. Then there's the disrupted sleep, random kicks to bladder and ribs that Trouble is experiencing, heartburn, etc...

I found the experience of baby brain a bit different from normal tiredness - but, especially for my first pregnancy, I think that might have been because of the emotional enormity of knowing I was about to bring a whole new little person into the world.

Psycho Milt said...

Actually, the fish and chip shop example reminds me of hypoglycaemia, which I've suffered from on occasion as a type 1 diabetic - shortage of blood sugar, leading to loss of brain function. That feeling that your brain really shouldn't be having trouble with this but quite definitely is, that's a familiar one. (No, it doesn't account for comments I leave on people's blogs.)

Brenda said...

i have baby brain right now..

last week at the supermarket, at the bulk bins at the supermarket I filled 10 bags, and carefully wrote the numbers on the bag.

I got to the checkout and..... I had got every single number wrong. numbers swapped mostly, though same bore no resemblance to the number.

I was tired sure... but i've often been tired from working all nighters for various projects. This is different.

Most noticable symptom is I can't access my full vocabulary. I just can't form sentences. This comment is probably all in Form 1 level english.

Please tell me my brain is gonna return.. I need it for something, can't remember what, but it's important.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I've gotten past the baby-brain from my first kid (now 7 1/2). Since having kids I almost never manage to get to the end of a complex thought without someone interrupting me so I rarely have a fully formed idea about anything.

The worst pregnancy sobbing I ever did was when I bought the live aid DVD during my second pregnancy - watching starving African babies with my healthy toddler at my breast and healthy fetus kicking in my belly was unbearably sad.

Also anything with kittens...

Anonymous said...

I'm pregnant right now. Can relate to the Extreme Makeover sobbing, especially in the first trimester, and I don't usually like or watch the show even.

I worked in a demanding corporate job throughout my first pregnancy, and this time around I am at home full-time caring for my toddler.

How I experienced it has been that in the first trimester, it is tiredness and illness and depending on whose company in, the mental energy that gets used up by trying to conceal the pregnancy. I'm now in my third trimester and especially the last couple of weeks have felt extremely 'baby brained' and at this stage to me it feels like it's because my attention is partly on the baby and only partly on whatever other task based thing I'm trying to achieve. In my experience parenthood, including pregnancy, has involved a real slowing down and letting go of any type of control so as to be responsive to the child and I find it hard to snap back in to the adult world.

Anna said...

Anon, that sounds really tough. I think being pregnant and having a toddler to care for at the same time is one of the most challenging things there is.