Like Pregnancy Brain…like Period Brain?

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Shot of a young businesswoman with her eyes closed sitting in her office

 

While it is still a subject scientists are looking at, and just might come up with a different result tomorrow, most pregnant women and mothers attest to the fact that pregnancy brain is a reality today.

The bouts of forgetfulness during pregnancy, which is sometimes called ‘momnesia’ or “pregnancy brain” cannot be denied. Some moms snap out of it fast and for others, it is a nine-month-long experience. It can be frustrating, but it is to be somewhat expected.

Depending on how conception is achieved or even just because pregnancy is a big deal, you may be distracted by worry or excitement about this new adventure you’re beginning and the major life changes it will bring.

Stress and anxiety can also interfere with your ability to concentrate and remember things, and the fatigue that’s so common during pregnancy probably doesn’t help either.

The science behind Momnesia?

Pregnancy sends a flood of hormones throughout your body, and this triggers major physiological changes. No one knows quite yet how that affects the brain and memory because the science behind it is unclear.

Some research shows pregnant women have significantly worse memory than women who aren’t pregnant, and other studies show memory in pregnant women gets worse only in the third trimester. Other research shows that pregnant women do just as well on cognitive tests as women who aren’t pregnant.

In 2016, a small but important study revealed that pregnancy can cause significant and long-lasting changes in women’s brain structure.

Now, take a step back and imagine experiencing this momnesia on a monthly basis, i.e. every single time that the witch shows up? Hard to imagine dealing with that drama on a daily, or even monthly, basis, isn’t it? Well, some women do that already.

Here are some examples of the period brain in action:

For the past one year, Rachael had been paying closer attention to her period and the dozens of symptoms she experiences at that time.  One time, while on her period, she somehow managed to get into her car using her keys, but lost them before putting them in the ignition. “I searched my car and the parking lot for a good hour and a half looking for them. Then my friend suggested they could be in the door, which they were,” she adds.

Another lady, Ada, shared how she lost her way horribly while going to a restaurant she had been to regularly. The worst part was that she had her parents and sister in the car, and they all witnessed her disorientation. Her sister finally saved the day, when she asked that they use online maps as a guide.

“In minutes, we were at the restaurant. But I had wasted close to two hours driving in circles. I just wondered what was happening to me that day.”

Well, it turned out that a ‘fog’ seems to descend on her when Aunty Flo is just a few days away.

Forgetfulness is not the only symptom of period brain. Other symptoms can include relentless fatigue. No matter what time you go to bed the night before or how fulfilling and satisfying your sleep may have been, you’re always tired in the morning…in fact the whole day feels like a drag.

As you might have imagined, all of these symptoms are presented as inexplicable anger. According to sufferers, it can make it hard to tolerate other people and even yourself.

While Medical researchers aren’t really sure why some women experience period brain, the current accepted view is that hormones can get across the blood/brain barrier and affect neurotransmitters.”

Falling progesterone levels right before your period can affect production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which in turn affects memory.

Experts acknowledge that “a drop in estrogen also leads to fatigue, so you may also find it harder to focus in the run up to your period.”

The stress hormone cortisol is also triggered in the week before your cycle, which can leave you feeling more easily overwhelmed too.

However, there is good news, and it’s a very recent one at that. It turns out that period brain is only partly true as cognitive function is not actually compromised during that time of the month.

According to a new study published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, led by Professor Brigitte Leeners, a Specialist in Reproductive Medicine and a Psychotherapist, most women’s cognitive function isn’t affected by their period

The study looked at women’s cognitive function across two menstrual cycles. They looked specifically at three aspects of cognition: working memory, cognitive bias (a tendency to think a certain way that’s not necessarily rational), and the ability to pay attention to two things at once.

While Dr. Leeners and her team observed some changes in thinking during the first cycle, none of those changes showed up in the following cycle.

The team concluded that fluctuating levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone seem to have no consistent effect on the brain’s ability to function.

Dr. Leeners said “Although there might be individual exceptions, women’s cognitive performance is in general not disturbed by hormonal changes occurring with the menstrual cycle.”

However, there is a caveat to this which is important to keep in mind if you do experience a lower cognitive function around your period.

Scientists have pointed out that there is a group of women with mild to moderate or inconsistent changes in their thoughts and feelings across the cycle, and maybe [current] tests just aren’t sensitive enough pick up these feelings, hence, they are swept to the side, which doesn’t make them less valid.

So, is it possible to suffer from period pain? Well, the answer from the latest research is no, but too many factors point to the fact that it’s a reality for some women.

The debate of whether period brain exists or not is a testament to the different experiences women have, and how these impact their lives and, ultimately, show that women are strong.

Period brain…or not, women rock.

 

 

Join the conversation with any of our TTC and Pregnancy Groups here

 

Photo credits:

1. https://m0.her.ie

2. http://www.rd.com/

3. http://www.metro.us/ 

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