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'Baby brain' is only a blip and new mums regain full cognitive function within a year, study shows 

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‘Baby brain’ after giving birth is only a blip — with new mothers regaining their full cognitive function within a year — a study has found.

Often dubbed ‘Mumnesia’, it is said this phenomenon manifests as increased forgetfulness and absent-mindedness in mothers shortly after giving birth.

However, researchers from the US found that it is short-lived and that mothers are often more attentive than women who have never been pregnant or had children.

'Baby brain' after giving birth is only a blip — with new mothers regaining their full cognitive function within a year — a study has found (stock image)

‘Baby brain’ after giving birth is only a blip — with new mothers regaining their full cognitive function within a year — a study has found (stock image)

‘In most studies, attention and memory tests are given to mothers very early postpartum,’ said paper author and Purdue University anthropologist Valerie Miller.

‘There are few issues with that, because when you first have a child you have a cascade of hormones and sleep deprivation that might be affecting attention and memory processes in the brain.’

Postpartum is the approximately six-week-long period beginning immediately after birth, when the mother’s body — including her hormone levels and uterus size — return to a non-pregnant state.

In their study, Ms Miller and colleagues conducted a so-called ‘Attention Network Test’ to compare the reaction times of 60 mothers who were at least one year postpartum with those of 70 non-mothers.

‘We recruited mums who were past that first year postpartum because we wanted to see the long-term effects of maternity,’ Ms Miller explained.

The women were also asked to answer survey questions on a seven point scale, such as ‘How sleepy do you feel?’ and ‘How do you think your attentiveness is?’.

The team found that the way in which women perceive their own attention span often matched with their attention test results.

‘This means that women have accurate awareness of their cognitive state and that their concerns regarding their perceived attentional functioning should be taken seriously’ said paper author and anthropologist Amanda Veile of Purdue University.

‘We also believe that “mummy-brain” may be a culture-bound phenomenon and that mothers will feel the most distracted and forgetful when they feel stressed, overextended and unsupported.’

‘Unfortunately, many mums feel this way — especially now in the midst of economic and political instability and pandemic.’

Often dubbed'Mumnesia', it is said the baby brain phenomenon manifests as increased forgetfulness and absent-mindedness in mothers shortly after giving birth (stock image)

 Often dubbed ‘Mumnesia’, it is said the baby brain phenomenon manifests as increased forgetfulness and absent-mindedness in mothers shortly after giving birth (stock image)

In the attention test, the women were asked to watch a monitor on which a ‘cue box’ flashed on the screen for 100 milliseconds in one of two possible locations, signalling that an image was about to appear.

Next, an image of five arrows pointing in different directions flashed on the screen for 500 milliseconds, with the participants asked to press the button matching the direction of only the middle arrow.

The test collected the women’s response times and scored them against three main attention networks — alerting, orienting and executive control.

The alerting network helps the brain prepare for incoming stimuli, while the orienting network directs the brain towards new things and the executive control network helps resolve conflicting information.

Ms Miller and colleagues found no evidence that being a mother had any negative influence on a woman’s ability to pay attention.

'Overall, mums did not have significantly different attention than non-mothers, so we did not find evidence to support "mummy brain" as our culture understands it,' said Ms Miller

‘Overall, mums did not have significantly different attention than non-mothers, so we did not find evidence to support “mummy brain” as our culture understands it,’ said Ms Miller

‘Overall, mums did not have significantly different attention than non-mothers, so we did not find evidence to support “mummy brain” as our culture understands it,’ said Ms Miller.

‘It’s possible, if anything, that maternity is related to improved, rather than diminished, attentiveness.’

The findings  suggests that ‘mummy brain’, such as it is, does not last long and disappears by around one year after birth.

The researchers warned, however, that heightened attention is not always a positive thing, as it can amplify feelings of anxiety and stress.

'It makes perfect sense that mums who have brought children into this world have more stimuli that needs to be processed to keep themselves and other humans alive,' added Ms Miller

‘It makes perfect sense that mums who have brought children into this world have more stimuli that needs to be processed to keep themselves and other humans alive,’ added Ms Miller

‘It makes perfect sense that mums who have brought children into this world have more stimuli that needs to be processed to keep themselves and other humans alive,’ added Ms Miller.

‘We plan to do cross-cultural investigations to further examine how narratives of motherhood and social support are associated with maternal tested attention and well-being around the world.’

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Current Psychology. 

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