When you’re pregnant, you can expect your body to go through a lot of physical changes. Your belly grows, your hair gets more luscious, and your skin starts to get that gorgeous pregnancy glow. Of course, along with the good sometimes comes the, you know, not so good, like stretch marks, heartburn, and swollen feet. But if you find that you’re suffering from the dreaded pregnancy brain, you’re not alone. And now, science officially backs up why you can’t find your keys — even if they’re right in your hand.
As it turns out, pregnancy brain is a real thing, and it occurs because of structural changes to your brain. Yes, that means that the actual size of your brain gets smaller, according to a study published in the Nature Neuroscience journal. The study found that the changes that occur during pregnancy aren’t relegated to just those nine months — the effects last up to two years after giving birth.
Prior to having their babies, 25 women had high resolution MRI brain scans. After their pregnancies were over, they were rescanned. The authors of the study found that the new mommies showed “loss of gray matter in several brain areas associated with social cognition, a form of emotional intelligence,” reported CNN.
That said, “Reduced volume does not necessarily reflect reduced brain activity,” said Elseline Hoekzema, co-lead author of the study and a senior brain scientist at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
While participants scored lower on a verbal word list learning task, researchers aren’t worried about these results. In fact, in an CNN article, Dr. Kim Yonkers, a professor in psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology at Yale School of Medicine, believed that the affected areas of the brain “may help women forget the pain or difficulty of pregnancy.” Which might explain why you can’t pinpoint exactly how horrible the pain of labor and birth was after you’ve delivered your baby, even though you know it hurt like a mother.
There are mixed responses from experts on the results of the study. While many believe that women’s brains do change during pregnancy, there are many unanswered questions as to how these adaptations will ultimately affect both mother and baby (and subsequent pregnancies) in the future. But in the meantime, if you accidentally leave your phone in the fridge, you’ve got a good reason why.