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Pregnancy Brain Explained?

So-called “pregnancy brain”—the forgetfulness and hazy mental state that many pregnant women claim to experience—is one of those gestational phenomena that science has yet to fully prove exists. But research by Dr. Adam Franssen, assistant professor of biology at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, has unearthed some intriguing findings.

Among a specific population of test subjects—pregnant rats—Franssen has found that pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding actually contribute to a restructuring of the brain, in some cases building completely new neurons in preparation for motherhood. “Overwhelmingly,” says Franssen, “mother rats are much better than the non-mothers at learning, memory and foraging ability.”

The first trimester seems to be when the greatest build-up occurs, creating just enough of a disturbance to cause, say, a particularly forgetful moment. Franssen likes to compare the commotion to road construction: The detours caused by lane additions or resurfacing projects can make for a dicey commute, but once the improvements are done the ride goes a whole lot smoother.

We are, of course, dealing with rats here, which are blissfully untouched by our common stressors. (“We’re not addressing some of the issues that human moms face,” admits Franssen. “No rat is worried about having her work hours reduced and paying the rent.”) But the initial discoveries are compelling. And while the research shows that cognitive improvements during pregnancy aren’t necessarily a given, there’s a good chance that if you’re having a baby your brain is going through nearly as much as your body—and the disruptions might just pay off in the end.

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