Pregnant women who suffer lapses in
memory or concentration may no longer be able to blame it on “the bump”. The
idea that bearing children affects one’s brain power — the “baby brain” — is a
myth, researchers say.
Their study found no difference in
how pregnant women or new mothers scored on tests of thinking speed and memory
compared with those who were childless. Writing in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the authors said that
pregnant women should be encouraged to stop attributing lapses in memory or
logical thinking to their growing baby.
The findings contradict previous
studies that claimed that women’s brains decline in size by up to 4 per cent
while they are pregnant, potentially leading to worse performance on tests of
memory and verbal skills.
Helen Christensen, of the
Australian National University in Canberra, author of the latest study, said
that the effect was “a myth”. Professor Christensen’s team recruited 1,241
women aged 20-24 in 1999 and 2003 and asked them to perform a series of tasks.
The women were followed up at four-year intervals and asked to perform the same
cognitive tests. A total of 77 women were pregnant at the follow-up
assessments, 188 had become mothers and 542 remained childless.
The researchers found no
significant differences in cognitive change for those women who were pregnant
or new mothers during the assessments and those who were not.
“Not so long ago, pregnancy was
‘confinement’ and motherhood meant the end of career aspirations,” Professor
Christensen said. “[but] our results challenge the view that mothers are
anything other than the intellectual peers of their contemporaries.”
Cathy Warwick, of the Royal College
of Midwives, said that the rigours of pregnancy could explain why some women
felt absent-minded or tired.
The number of infants in England
dying before their first birthday is still greater than in countries such as
France, Spain and the Republic of Ireland, the Audit Commission says.
The health of pre-school children
has not significantly improved despite the Government having spent £10 billion,
directly or indirectly, since 1998 on improving the health of children under
the age of 5 in England. Infant death rates have fallen but are “still
relatively high” compared with other European countries.