Saturday, 6 February 2010

Cognition in pregnancy and motherhood: prospective cohort study -- Christensen et al. 196 (2): 126 -- The British Journal of Psychiatry

Cognition in pregnancy and motherhood: prospective cohort study -- Christensen et al. 196 (2): 126 -- The British Journal of Psychiatry

Research has reported that pregnant women and mothers become forgetful. However, in these studies, women are not recruited prior to pregnancy, samples are not representative and studies are underpowered.
The current study sought to determine whether pregnancy and motherhood are associated with brief or long-term cognitive deterioration using a representative sample and measuring cognition during and before the onset of pregnancy and motherhood.
Women aged 20–24 years were recruited prospectively and assessed in 1999, 2003 and 2007. Seventy-six women were pregnant at follow-up assessments, 188 became mothers between study waves and 542 remained nulliparous.
No significant differences in cognitive change were found as a function of pregnancy or motherhood, although late pregnancy was associated with deterioration on one of four tests of memory and cognition.
The hypothesis that pregnancy and motherhood are associated with persistent cognitive deterioration was not supported. Previous negative findings may be a result of biased sampling.

This study is interesting on many points. One interesting point is the way the researchers concluded their paper by stating:

"Obstetricians, general family doctors and midwives may need to use the findings from this study to promote the view that ‘placenta brain’ is not inevitable, and that perceptions of impairment may reflect emotional or other unknown factors. 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".
 An important point to make!

 The researchers state that:

"one of the weaknesses of our study was our inability to link cognitive change with biological changes associated with pregnancy"
What would have been really interesting is to see the neurological changes that were taking place in women's brains as they were questioned by the researchers.  Emerging insights from neuroscience indicate that different attentional networks are operating, depending upon the task at hand.  Different attentional networks trigger different autonomic nervous system 'states' with correspondingly different biochemical responses and levels.

Pregnant women do not suffer cognitive 'impairment' that much the research has demonstrated, however, the researchers dismisses the fact that many women do forget things in pregnancy, relegating the 'forgetting phenomenon' to the basket of emotionally related factors.  Dismissing women's experience as merely emotionally driven is, in my view, dangerous thinking.

Emotions are powerful chemicals for one thing and have a great deal to do with day to day health and long term wellbeing for both mother and baby.

A far better conclusion is that the pregnant woman's body and subconscious processes are very busy building a baby.  Our innate intelligence has a way of rerouting attention from less important to more important activities. Nothing, in terms of nature's agenda (healthy reproduction) is more important than building a healthy baby.

With an understanding of neuroscience and attentional networks, the fact that a pregnant woman becomes forgetful about 'boring' tasks and 'work' related activities is perfectly understandable and has nothing to do with her intellectual ability and cognition. When a woman's attentional networks are triggered to pay attention, she will, demonstrating, as this study shows that her intellectual ability is 'normal'.

Pregnant women can be assured that forgetting mundane, wordly things is actually very normal and very understandable. Their body intelligence is very consumed in growing a baby and is not bothered or very interested in outside worldly pursuits.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hi Carolyn!
This is such an interesting one- I sure forgot things that seemed less relevant than growing a baby. One thing I'd be interested to know is if there are studies about pregnancy and motor skills. I was extremely clumsy through all of my pregnancies, right from the first trimester of my first pregnancy- i knocked things over in shops, broke most of our cups and plates, bumped into things (even before I had a "bump") was really noticeable and has gone back to normal now thankfully...
love nicole x