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BYU study sheds light on ‘mommy brain’ stereotype

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Posted at 9:45 PM, Apr 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-12 23:45:49-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- You may have heard the term "mommy brain" when it comes to having a baby, as it’s a common stereotype that women's brains don't work as well when they are pregnant.

Now, a new study from Brigham Young University indicates that’s not actually the case.

Michael Larson, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at BYU, spoke about the stereotype.

“There’s been a conception for a long time that women don’t have as good of memory, particularly after they get pregnant and have a child,” he said.

Larson said he wanted to find out if the stereotype was actually true, so in 2012 he started working on a study. He based his findings on data from 21 women who were pregnant and 21 women who have never been pregnant.

All of the women were given standardized tests on things like remembering a shopping list, remembering a story, and remembering visual and spatial locations. The pregnant women were tested in their last trimester, as well as three to six months after they had their baby.

“We went in without a clear knowledge of what was going to happen,” Larson said. “Some studies say, yes there are memory problems, some studies say, no. Our study suggests that on the lab measures, there weren’t objective memory impairments. But in the self-report, the women definitely felt like they were having a hard time.”

Larson said pregnant women think they're having a harder time with memory for a couple of reasons. One factor is the stereotype, and another is the fact pregnant women and new mothers have very demanding lives.

“There's trying to get to appointments, making sure your baby's healthy, caring for their family members,” Larson said. “So, outside of the lab, on the subjective day-to-day, it can probably feel like there are more problems.”

Larson said fatigue may also be a factor.

“I think it’s this perception between the lack of sleep, the feeling of discomfort, and the overall decrease in quality of life that people just don't feel as good, so they start to think, hey there’s a correlation here with pregnancy,” he said.

Larson said none of the women who participated in the study were suffering from depression or postpartum depression, but he said he believes women who are depressed may feel the "mommy brain" more.

The study was published last May in the journal of experimental neuropsychology, and the authors said they hope this will help pregnant women get past the stereotype and understand that their memory is just fine.