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We have all heard about the many changes that pregnancy brings: hormones everywhere, emotional uncontrollability, memory loss, hysteria, basically pregnancy drives us crazy! All these FALSE BELIEFS reinforce the idea that women become a “less competent” being during this stage of life and despite the fact that we often make jokes about it, continuing to reinforce such ideas have caused for many years women to be discriminated against at work because of their pregnancy. Only in the United States, between October 2010 and September 2015, around 31,000 complaints of discrimination during pregnancy were filed (The National Partnership for Women & Families, 2016)
This is not surprising, it is simple common sense, if we believe that pregnant women are unable to control their emotions and have difficulty concentrating, paying attention and memorizing new information, it is obvious that they are perceived as the worst candidates to have in a job position. However, these beliefs are urban myths because, despite the fact that strong hormonal and brain changes exist, studies in neuroscience have shown that these changes increase the efficiency of the brain, in other words, the brain of a mother becomes more ” advanced”.
As I mentioned, one of the most common beliefs is related to the difficulty in memorizing information both during pregnancy and after giving birth. Studies have shown that only verbal memory is affected (remembering names or words), and that this does not happen in all women, the rest of the cognitive processes are intact (Glynn, 2010). This small variation in memory happens because the same brain is preparing the woman to change her priorities. The child becomes the priority, therefore, remembering the name of a movie or an object is no longer important. No study to date has been able to prove that pregnant women have a lower performance for the simple fact of being pregnant… what really does have an effect is sleep and stress. Lack of sleep and chronic stress decrease brain effectiveness, affect memory, attention, the ability to solve problems… but this does not just happen to pregnant women, this happens to ALL of us. A sleepless night, for anyone, affects their performance by up to 25%.
Another of the famous myths is to believe that pregnant women lose control of their emotions. Despite the fact that pregnancy implies a considerable rise in hormones such as progesterone and estrogen which can affect emotions (crying for no apparent reason or having days of greater irritability), but does NOT imply that the woman becomes an uncontrollable hysteric, as is usually sold. To the contrary, a study called Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure (Hoekzema, Barba-Müller, Pozzobon, et al, 2016), found that there are several areas of the brain that decrease in size. Here it is important to highlight that this decrease is NOT something negative, what happens is that the brain is changing the neural connections to strengthen them and make them more efficient. In reality, these brain areas present up to 30% more activity. Interestingly, the parts of the brain that decreased are related to empathy, attachment, and emotional control; which means that pregnant women are actually better at managing stress and have better management of their emotions. It makes perfect sense because the brain is preparing the woman to respond more adequately to the needs of the baby. It is not a coincidence that despite the fact that the baby cries and cries for hours, the mother has the self-control not to abandon her son, but on the contrary, she has the patience and love to comfort him… she has more developed emotional control.
It is important to clarify that it does not mean that mothers do not feel stress, tiredness, sadness, etc. What happens is that naturally they are better equipped to “understand” the needs of the baby, however, it is extremely important that they do not neglect their own needs. Having a baby actually makes the brain develop and become extremely efficient at responding to the baby, BUT does NOT become more efficient for self-care. Hormonal changes, lack of sleep and concern with the baby generate imbalances that do influence the well-being of mothers. It is completely normal that after giving birth women feel more irritated, anxious, sad and there are sudden emotional changes as the body is adjusting to “its normality”, which usually lasts about two weeks. However, if these symptoms persist it is important to seek help… since the brain may be presenting other imbalances that are crucial to work on.
Pregnancy does have a very large influence at the brain level, but it is not a negative one. We need to stop reinforcing the belief that pregnant women somehow lose their mental abilities and become wild, out-of-control and reckless. On the contrary, the brain reaches another level: Brain 2.0, more specialized and more efficient: Ideal for any workplace.
Psychologist, Master in Applied Neuroscience and Master in Positive Psychology. Meditation and Reiki Master. My passion is to integrate science and spirituality in order to cultivate together a deeper world that nourishes the heart instead of our automated responses; one that channels fear and pain into deep freedom, joy and unconditional love. With such a dream in mind I founded Happiher, where through trainings, conferences, coaching, meditations and support circles we co-create such a reality.