When you’re pregnant, many changes occur throughout your entire body. While the changes directly related to your baby bump are most obvious, many of the other changes are invisible to the naked eye and affect you on a psychological level. Some of these psychological changes are caused by an increased amount of female sex hormones during pregnancy. Female sex hormones, also known as female sex steroids, are produced by the ovaries. The two most well known are progesterone and estrogen. In addition to having an effect on reproduction, these hormones also affect the neurobiology of your brain. In fact, a recent study shows which brain functions in particular are altered by increased levels of female sex hormones during pregnancy.

The first brain function that might be impaired is your ability to remember spatial data. In other words, while you are pregnant, you might feel totally unable to remember where you put your keys, or where you last saw your sneakers. You’ll also be particularly bad with directions, which is also related to spatial information. If you’ve noticed this type of decreased brain function, it is not your fault. It is simply a physiological change in your brain, and it could even last up to three months after you give birth. Additionally, increased female sex hormones have been proven to lower mood in many pregnant women. If you’re feeling a little down in spite of your imminent bundle of joy, don’t feel guilty about it. It is simply a product of the rampant hormones brought on by gestation, and you will return to normal after your pregnancy has run its course.

Next time someone gives you a hard time about not being able to find the keys, tell them to lay off, and that it is simply your body’s natural reaction to your pregnancy. Similarly, cut yourself some slack if you’re feeling low while the rest of your family is so ecstatic about your pregnancy. Your brain functions are slightly inhibited by the increased levels of sex hormones, and you have little control over the changes they cause. However, if you notice that these problems are actually interfering with your everyday life, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider about treatment, and about making sure there isn’t a bigger problem. Pregnancy is certainly wonderful, but it takes its toll on your body, and your brain is clearly not spared.

Source: D. Farrar et al: Pregnancy Impairs Spatial Memory And Lowers Mood. Archives of Disease in Childhood Fetal Neonatal Edition Volume 95 Issue 6 2010

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