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Baby Brain: How Pregnancy Affects Memory

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- It turns out a lot goes out with the bath water when a woman is pregnant, including memory.

Doctors say the feeling many women get – that they are losing their minds – is not in their imagination.

"I've experienced 'baby brain,' and I have been going through it," Mineola resident Lauren Stipp said. "Forgetfulness, absentmindedness."

Stipp is due to give birth next month.

Lisa Marie Governale, of Huntington, just had a baby girl.

"I would forget, say, to run an errand, or 'what did I go into the room for?'" Governale said.

"I've been practicing obstetrics for more than 30 years, and it's absolutely true," Dr. Victor Klein, of Long Island Jewish Medical Center, said. "Women who are pregnant are more forgetful."

Dr. Klein said his pregnant patients are all discussing the latest research on memory loss, attributable to surging hormones and high levels of oxytocin which combine to produce symptoms of amnesia.

One study showed the causes: multitasking, iron deficiency, and sleep deprivation. New evidence points to temporary brain shrinkage of up to eight percent.

"Some studies have shown in the third trimester – the last three months of pregnancy – the brain is actually smaller if you do MRIs on pregnant mothers," Dr. Klein said. "After you deliver, it gets back to normal size."

A medical study out of Michigan shows women in the third trimester experience forgetfulness 15 percent more than the average person.

Timor Hedvat, of Manhasset, is due in two weeks.

"You're forgetting last names, names of people," Hedvat said.

Elizabeth Acosta said her memory didn't fully return for three months.

"I forgot a lot, it was very difficult," she said. "I had to write everything down, make lists, to remember to do things."

Experts do have a few tips to help prevent memory loss during pregnancy.

"Number one, get a lot of sleep. Number two, write things down," Dr. Klein said.

Scientists say there may be an evolutionary aspect to "pregnancy brain" – women will forget unimportant matters and focus on caring for the soon-to-be-born child.

Some studies have shown that women accumulate up to 700 hours of "sleep debt" in the first year after having a baby. That keeps the brain from being at its best for things outside of caring for the child.

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