Wha? Of the Day

babybrain.jpg
So apparently Australian researchers have found more evidence showing that women can be more forgetful during pregnancy. What I want to know is where the hell “baby brain” came from and are you as perturbed by the term as I am?

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  • Nimue

    A more thoughtful study found that although women are more forgetful about ordinary things, they have better-than-average memory when it comes to any bit of baby-related information. As one midwife said, it’s nof forgetfulness, it’s focus.
    That said, it still makes me wary about getting pregnant in grad school.
    Isn’t it funny how everytime we refute one “scientific” reason women are inferior, a new one pops up? Why don’t we hear about a study finding that new fathers are more forgetful than new mothers when it comes to baby information?

  • pram in the hall

    I am not that perturbed by the label of “baby brain.” Mostly I’ve heart it referred to as “mommy brain,” which I hate much more–it makes it sound like a permanent state–attached to you, the mother, rather than as a temporary state that can be blamed on the baby. Also, only my children can call me mommy. I hate being referred to as mommmy by anyone else, even generically. Since we know there’s going to be some cutesy term, what would be best? PIFS (Parasite Incubation Forgetfulness Syndrome).

  • pram in the hall

    I am not that perturbed by the label of “baby brain.” Mostly I’ve heart it referred to as “mommy brain,” which I hate much more–it makes it sound like a permanent state–attached to you, the mother, rather than as a temporary state that can be blamed on the baby. Also, only my children can call me mommy. I hate being referred to as mommmy by anyone else, even generically. Since we know there’s going to be some cutesy term, what would be best? PIFS (Parasite Incubation Forgetfulness Syndrome).

  • P. Parkinson

    It *sucks* going through it. When I was pregnant, I would occassionally have a really hard time wrapping my mind around concepts that were normally pretty easy to deal with. I actually contemplated quitting my job one day because I could NOT figure out what I was supposed to be doing, but I absolutely could not blame it on pregnancy brain. When I finally calmed down, I finally got it sorted out. But it kind of sucks being in a position where (at least in an office full of men) you are physically very obviously female and therefore *different* from the other employees while at the same time your brain is conspiring to make you feel less competent as well.
    That said, Mr. Parkinson had to bring the baby to daycare today and the added responsibility of doing that caused him to lock himself out of the house. So perhaps he has pregnancy brain as a permanent condition.

  • http://www.randommusingsonlife.blogspot.com/ GottaBeMe

    And when I first read it, the term “baby brain” makes me think that it’s implying that the woman has the brain of a baby. Nice.
    I’m so sick of stereotypes about women. First, we’re insane and irrational once a month because we all get rabid PMS.
    Then during pregnancy, we’re sobbing, forgetful, hormone driven messes.
    Personally, I don’t want kids ever, but I still resent the stereotyping.
    And yes, I’d love to see a study on how forgetful/oblivious men are when they are watching sports or playing computer or video games. Anyone?

  • kat2907

    I’m not sure about ‘baby brain’ – pregnancy brain maybe. The fact is though it is true. Anyone who has been pregnant will attest that it makes you weepy, grouchy and forgetful. Some more than others of course – but hormones are real and they do affect us! That’s not to say I think women should be discriminated against when they are pregnant tho – obviously.

  • kat2907

    I’m not sure about ‘baby brain’ – pregnancy brain maybe. The fact is though it is true. Anyone who has been pregnant will attest that it makes you weepy, grouchy and forgetful. Some more than others of course – but hormones are real and they do affect us! That’s not to say I think women should be discriminated against when they are pregnant tho – obviously.

  • kat2907

    I’m not sure about ‘baby brain’ – pregnancy brain maybe. The fact is though it is true. Anyone who has been pregnant will attest that it makes you weepy, grouchy and forgetful. Some more than others of course – but hormones are real and they do affect us! That’s not to say I think women should be discriminated against when they are pregnant tho – obviously.

  • Barbara P

    Anecdotaly, I found that sleep deprivation was the *real* cause for me, because my first child didn’t sleep as well as my second. That seems like the most rational explanation to me, since it’s well established that a lack of sleeps impairs mental processes.

  • http://mediamatters.org GuyFromOhio

    ‘baby brain’ may have been derived from chemo brain. I’ve had experience observing both, and while each varies widely among individuals, I can attest that there are noticeable psychological changes that accompany the physical changes.

  • jessilikewhoa

    the label sucks, but the fact that pregnancy brings about changes in the brain makes sense to me at least. i’ve been researching pmdd (premenstrual dysphoric disorder)becos i’ve been literally unable to function this week, like couldnt bring myself to bathe, couldnt think, couldnt leave my house, and so on, this despite already being on paxil and buspar which work great the whole rest of the month. so yeah, i would buy that the hormone changes of pregnancy can make focusing hard. but the name, infantilizes adult women.

  • sunflwrmoonbeam

    Despite only having been pregnant for 3 weeks (yay miscarriage!) I can attest that pregnancy brain is real, and sucks. I tried to finish my thesis while pregnant which was incredibly difficult. I started referring to the embryo as my zombie baby because it was seriously eating my brain.
    So yeah, if you’re in grad school, don’t get pregnant. It’s a bad idea.

  • http://astraeasscales.blogspot.com Geek

    so yeah, i would buy that the hormone changes of pregnancy can make focusing hard. but the name, infantilizes adult women.

    I agree. It also reduces many, many factors into one reductive, faux-scientific assumption that trivializes all of the many things that are happening when a woman is pregnant.
    The scientists themselves admit that they don’t know the causes, but insist it’s some condition they can call “baby brain.”
    For the sake of your mental health, don’t read the comments after the article.

  • http://astraeasscales.blogspot.com Geek

    I forgot to add that this would be a much more relevent story if they looked at non-pregnant parents.
    I’s hard to judge the study since, as usual, the reporting is shoddy.

  • Yoshimi

    Shouldn’t it be Study: Baby Brain a real condition?

  • LilahCello

    Anyone who has been pregnant will attest that it makes you weepy, grouchy and forgetful.
    I have to disagree here. I’ve been pregnant twice (6 months currently), and while I am forgetful (a condition I ‘suffer’ from normally), I am not in the least bit weepy or grouchy.
    I like the comment from the midwife who said that we are focused. I, too, am in school right now, studying social philosophy and ethics, and though I forget basic everyday things, I’ve found that I am far more focused on my work. My readings are more in depth and critical. It’s primarily the fatigue from not sleeping nights that does in my memory. BUT, this is ME, and not the case for every woman. I have six friends who are pregnant right now and we are all experiencing it differently, of course.

  • Clare

    Okay, I definitely thought the title meant they’d discovered babies actually had brains…

  • http://www.herveryown.com Akeeyu Buttmansion

    I’m guessing that if you enforced the same stress levels (omg, caffeine! old wives’ tales! social pressure!), sleep deprivation and physical strain on random men for 40 weeks, you could create a pretty good case of ‘baby brain’, too.

  • janet

    I welcome this research as a way of helping women realize that nothing is wrong with them when they go through normal biological processes. I suffered from a glandular disease that left my body in a faux-pregnancy hormal state throughout my adolescence and teenage years. I was commenting to my family the other day that the surgery to correct this (at 17) was a cognitive awakening. Suddenly, I could understand spatial and cause-and-effect issues both academically and socially. Instead of just having to memorize lists of facts, I could actually understand concepts in my classes. There was a marked difference.
    When I was a new mother, I was told my doctors, nurses and the media that “breastfeeding should never hurt.” I assumed something was wrong with me when it did. Later, there was a publicity push to educate women that “yes, it does hurt but it is temporary and there is nothing wrong with you.” This new research can help pregnant women also understand that they aren’t going nuts, their functioning will get better, and there is nothing wrong with them — a good thing. I can’t let that benefit outweigh a twee name.

  • Erica B

    Do keep in mind this is a sound-bite news article about the study (though it does include quotes in which the researcher used the “baby brain” term) — hopefully the actual paper is more scientific.
    My friends and I usually called it “pregnancy brain”, but “baby brain” doesn’t really bother me. In my experience, it was used jokingly between women to relieve the frustration of not being able to concentrate. If any man had ever said it to me (for example, “your email was confusing, have you got baby brain today?”) I would have beat the shit out of him (then blamed it on my uncontrollable mood swings, I suppose…)
    Anecdotaly, I found that sleep deprivation was the *real* cause for me — Me too. There were very few days after a good night’s sleep that I would find myself searching for words or unable to concentrate. If I had not slept well (either because I was trying to sleep around this immense watermelon in my stomach, or because said watermelon was now a baby who decided 3am was play time), then my concentration was useless. This has been a factor my whole life, though. Pregnancy DID contribute moments where I was nervous about pregnancy (or the upcoming birth) which would wind me into a state of incredible tension — and who concentrates well when they’re that stressed?
    Like absolutely everything else, pregnancy will affect some women differently than others. If you do not have mood changes or sleep pattern changes or morning sickness or pre-partum depression or the many other “typical” symptoms, hey, lucky you :)

  • http://whisksandneedles.blogspot.com SaraP

    I’m 16 weeks pregnant now, and have *definitely* noticed the decrease in cognitive function…one of my pregnancy books refers to it as “placenta brain.” I agree that it’s very real, and I’m not tremendously offended by it. Though I agree, that using it in the context of “she’s so flakey today, must be baby brain” is highly offensive…just as “she’s acting like a total witch today, must be PMS” is offensive. Pregnancy has changed my body in ways I never imagined…the placenta brain is only one part of it.

  • SammyJP

    I’m more familiar with the term “pregnancy head” as a substitute for “baby brain.” I hadn’t heard the term baby brain until this article, in fact. If we’re going to have a term for this at all, I’m opting for the pregnancy head.

  • http://litcritter.blogspot.com MikeT

    My wife calls it “pregnancy brain” and insists it’s real. And, yeah, her emotions get ramped up a bit around her period.
    What’s the big deal? I get cranky when I don’t feel good, or skip lunch, or don’t get enough sleep. It’s so frustrating when people act as if being having a body and dealing with its effects on your brain and your thought processes was a purely female phenomenon.
    After all, straight men have been “scientifically proven” to make more stupid decisions after looking at an attractive woman.

  • http://stopdropandblog.com FireMom

    There’s a book out that I prefer to believe over this new study entitled “The Mommy Brain” and it talks about how motherhood makes you smarter. I dig that over being told that I’m stupid. ;)

  • http://anniemiz.typepad.com/ Annie Miz

    Huh. I had no idea that the differences I perceived in pregnant friends and family members had a name in ‘baby brain’ (or ‘pregnancy brain’).
    Anyway, I agree w/Mike T. above wrt ‘What’s the big deal?’ We experience physical reactions to all sorts of changes within our bodies (e.g., pregnancy, menstruation, menopause, illness, medical treatment side effects, adolescence, etc.). Our brain is just another part of our physical body that could exhibit reactions.
    I imagine some reactions are considered negative or positive on a rather subjective basis. What’s important is what the pregnant woman or new mom thinks about the changes in her body and how she deals with it. A study on the brain’s reaction to pregnancy and birth can provide women with useful information. A woman who is experiencing, e.g., forgetfulness, during pregnancy can know that it’s not unusual. I welcome studies that inform, but don’t welcome studies or misrepresentations thereof that serve to further negative stereotypes.

  • http://rockthecradleblog.com CarolynMcC

    “Anyone who has been pregnant will attest that it makes you weepy, grouchy and forgetful.”
    Kat2907, this is not true–this pregnant woman (for the second time) will not attest to that. I’ve never experienced any of these things, except that when I’ve experienced pregnancy discrimination that’s made me pretty grouchy.

  • dananddanica

    I dont see what the issue is other than the name. Pregnancy is different for all of us. My friends and I have experienced things as described in the article and there are many reasons for that happening.

  • Cedar

    The same thing happened to me, but it was even worse because it was an unwanted pregnancy. I was so stressed out and forgetful. I’d just started a new job maybe two or three months before finding out I was pregnant. I was so distracted, and I kept screwing things up; I made a number of really small mistakes that I think colored my coworkers’ preception of me for awhile.

  • grumbelina

    I hear a lot of women complaining about this phenomenon, but can’t say I ever experienced it myself (or am I just kidding myself?). And fwiw I did have my first baby in the last stages of grad school. Far from wrecking my mental acuity, I found that having a baby (after she was born, I mean) actually made me a more efficient writer, because I could only work on my dissertation during her naps! Just to point out that these are not universal truths …

  • Nimue

    I’m a feminist medical anthropologist, and I’ve observed that it’s a common theme to blame anything that women experience on their (defective) bodies or “hormones” (w/o real scientific evidence). Social explanations (sleep deprivation, new role, major life change) strike me as Occam’s razor — much simpler than a convoluted physiological explanation. Of course, the worst “scientific” explanations rely on some kind of cave-man fantasy….

  • Andreas Schou

    I’m a feminist medical anthropologist, and I’ve observed that it’s a common theme to blame anything that women experience on their (defective) bodies or “hormones” (w/o real scientific evidence). Social explanations (sleep deprivation, new role, major life change) strike me as Occam’s razor — much simpler than a convoluted physiological explanation. Of course, the worst “scientific” explanations rely on some kind of cave-man fantasy….
    When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. This strikes me as the same sort of discipline-bound thinking that’s responsible for sociobiology.
    We are social creatures and also our biological selves. Pregnancy significantly alters a woman’s biochemistry. The disorder occurs even when a woman is not externally perceived to be pregnant. Use Occam’s razor to produce a social explanation, and you shave off all of these additional facts.
    — ACS

  • eava

    For some women this is very real. I guessed my sister was pregnant after watching her walk into a room, turn around and go back up the stairs, turn around and come back downstairs, say “What did I need?”, and go back upstairs. She was barely pregnant, she had either just taken a pregnancy test or took one a few days later, so sleep deprivation, changing roles, etc, weren’t a factor. Some women sail through pregnancy completely uneffected, with a little basket ball of a belly, and deliver naturally in 10 hours. they’re the minority. Pregnancy is a major physiological event, why deny that it effects us, physically, mentally and psychologically? That is why the right to choose is so important. Pregnancy can be brutal and no woman should be forced to go through it. Nor should a pregnant woman feel like she must perform in all areas exactly the same way she did when she wasn’t pregnant. That is just unrealistic. A pregnant woman’s needs, and even limitations, need to be accomodated, in the home and the workplace.

  • http://litcritter.blogspot.com MikeT

    Just to muddy the waters a little further, I was at the store tonight, and I left my cart at one end of the aisle, walked halfway to the other, realized what I actually needed was in the other aisle, went back for my cart, by which time I’d forgotten about the thing I was going after, then had to turn around and go back for it five minutes later from three aisles down, and all that while I was in the wrong damn grocery store because I forgot that my 20 weeks pregnant wife was craving greek yogurt, which this store doesn’t even carry.
    So can I claim baby brain, too?

  • Alex

    While I agree that the term does “infantalize” women, baby brain does exist. Just as morning sickness, sciatica, and back labor doesn’t affect all pregnant women, neither does baby brain, but that doesn’t mean that we should negate it. It’s the same thing as PMS – just because it doesn’t affect all women doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I definitely had baby brain, just as I had post partum, and just as I (still) have PMS. It doesn’t make me any less of a woman, nor does it make me less of a feminist to admit that.
    I wish that women wouldn’t be afraid to talk about these kinds of things. When I had my daughter, I was the first of my group to have a baby, and I was very very open with my friends with regard to everything I was feeling – from the midnight tears that I was a bad mom to the post partum. Nobody had shared that with me, and it made for a difficult experience, and I wanted my friends to have a better experience.

  • A male

    “Isn’t it funny how everytime we refute one ‘scientific’ reason women are inferior, a new one pops up?”
    All I’d like to say is, I wish recognizing a few documented differences between men and women, or even differences between pregnant and non-pregnant women (naturally individual experiences will vary), would not be perceived as one group being superior or inferior.
    For example, I will simply take the “working mothers are happier” study for what it is, not enter into a debate about which is “better” for woman or child in general.

  • A male

    Er, working mother vs. SAHM, that is, as the discussion turned into.

  • eastsidekate

    My partner and I also referred to this phenomenon as “placenta brain”, which struck us as much more appropriate and/or cool. But, yes, some women experience some changes in memory when they’re pregnant– some women don’t. Lots of people experience lots of changes in memory in all sorts of situations.
    The whole “being a mom makes you stupid” angle is infuriating. What about being a dad? It’s all part of this “women’s uteri send out crazy waves that explain everything about their place in society and inferiority to men.” Grrrrrr… There really needs to be more perspective, both in the reporting, but also choice and promotion of research subjects.

  • abra

    Both things are true. Motherhood does tend to make women smarter and better at multitasking — but it does not happen all in one day. The in-between part is what they are calling “baby brain” — although my friends always called it “placenta brain” and recognized it as a pregnancy phenomenon.
    That’s not to say pregnant women aren’t bright. Many, many women finish degrees, write books and do other amazing things while pregnant.
    And don’t forget that certain pro-lifers claim that female athletes intentionally get pregnant and abort right before a big meet. Why? Because the pregnancy hormones supposedly make them better.
    So which is it, is pregnancy a superior or inferior state? Neither, imho. It’s just different.
    Also, every woman is different and I would surely appreciate it if “researchers” would acknowledge that instead of pretending they can observe 10 women and understand us all. Just like some women never have cramps during their menstrual cycle, and some women wax creative rather than grouchy during PMS, so women react differently to pregnancy.
    Pregnancy is amazing, huge, and often life-altering — but not in the same way for everyone.

  • abra

    I meant to say, I don’t believe the bit about athletes aborting to improve athletic prowess.
    I’ve had a natural miscarriage, plus a D&C for one of those wierd placenta-only pregnancies (which is no different to the body than a standard abortion, I imagine) and several births — and I never felt like running a marathon right after!

  • A male

    “What about being a dad?”
    Be certain that inexperienced fathers, even if not the first child, may be sorely lacking or impaired in various ways. For example, a new or prospective father may be able to talk about little else than the baby, his wife, and their experiences. Fathers, like some mothers, may also be fascinated by the qualities of baby poop, and tell other men about it. Oh yes, the men love that.

  • snappy mackerel

    Everybody’s pregnancy is different. I’m pregnant and “baby brain” is real, real, real for me. I’m in school and I find it extremely hard to focus for long periods of time. There’s a ton of reasons for this–my vision changed significantly due to my pregnancy and I find reading harder than it used to be, my sleep is interrupted by aches, pains, vomiting, and a full bladder, and I’ve cut my regular caffeine intake in half. I sometimes joke to my husband that I’m dealing with a 9-month hangover.
    That said, I would NEVER admit to experiencing “baby brain” outside of teh Internets. It’s hard enough being taken seriously as a pregnant woman in school–I don’t need people thinking I’m a wimp or incompetent. I just suck it up and work twice as hard as I did before.

  • Farhat

    I meant to say, I don’t believe the bit about athletes aborting to improve athletic prowess.
    It may be true. http://www.snopes.com/politics/sexuality/doping.asp Its not that it will turn you into a supermarathoner but it may be just enough to push you from 3rd place to 1st.

  • A male

    “That said, I would NEVER admit to experiencing “baby brain” outside of teh Internets. It’s hard enough being taken seriously as a pregnant woman in school–I don’t need people thinking I’m a wimp or incompetent. I just suck it up and work twice as hard as I did before.”
    I’d consider someone juggling pregnancy or motherhood in addition to studying or a career to be worthy of respect. Not because they are capable of less, but because they are doing much more, at least overall. I am sorry that people in your school are not willing to accomodate your pregnancy, or would think less of you for it.
    In my class of 29 women, three of my nursing classmates were known to become pregnant during the course of the program. At the very start of the program, the director and other instructors implored the women (90% of the class) not to become pregnant during the course of the program. Due to inopportune timing of unplanned conception, which I do not blame them for, two of the women were unable to stay in, one dropping out just one month short of graduation from the RN program.
    Had they made it, they could have enjoyed a salary of $60-70,000 per year after entry into the workforce, no mean feat for a young person in my community, which certainly would have come in handy for a growing family. Instead, those two are now SAHMs.
    Six? other people did not graduate for other reasons, for which there should be no shame. Despite what a certain doctor here says, nursing is not easy, but recognized as the most challenging program at our college. [No, we do not have law or medical school.] In addition, we have the responsibility (with malpractice insurance) of dealing in human lives.

  • rose_hasty

    I’m inclined to agree that the forgetfulness is due to being focussed on all the information you’re bombarded with when you’re pregnant and being more tired. I’m pregnant and a full-time waitress and I have found when I forget little things people notice and point it out BECAUSE I am pregnant. Before my workmates knew I was pregnant, I actually made many more mistakes because I was stressed due to some medical problems at the start of my pregnancy. Because my colleagues didn’t know about the pregnancy they barely noticed. I think it’s that rediculously low tolerance we have (men and women) for “problems” associated with being a woman. It’s especcially encouraged by my employer who is pissed off that he’ll have to accomodate my maternity leave/pay.

  • Miriam Heddy

    Being pregnant now with my third, I’ve taken to referring to it as “fetal brain drain.” And no, it’s not a debilitating condition, and I can still do a kickass job at work even while eight months pregnant. But I *do* forget things, and I am a different person while pregnant, in myriad ways, none of which render me any less valuable.
    Frankly, I don’t mind this research very much, as I don’t think it’s akin to “biology is destiny” to suggest that yes, pregnancy changes our bodies, and our brains are a part of our bodies, as affected by pregnancy as any other organ.
    I find it far more troubling that, today, the emphasis is on finding ways for pregnancy to *not* change our bodies. We’re inundated with advertising for plastic surgery “Mommy Jobs” to tighten our breasts, bellies, and vaginas. We’re told we should be ashamed of the changes that come with pregnancy, and ideally should remain unmarked, forever preserved virgins in our early twenties.
    Granted, not enough research is ever done on fathers, or on male emotions and biological factors, and yes, that is sexist and deeply problematic. But acknowledging that we are no the same people while pregnant is fairly reasonable, and we’re losing something, as feminists, if we become afraid of talking about the ways in which our bodies *are* different from male bodies, at least some of the time.