You found your keys in the bathroom. You forgot about your prenatal appointment. You couldn’t recall your co-worker’s last name. On their own, these mental mishaps might seem like small inconveniences. But when they all occur in one day, you may be wondering, “Is my pregnancy zapping my brain cells? Or is my grief clouding my memory?”

confused pregnant woman sitting on bed - Pregnancy Brain and Grief Brain: What They Are and How to Cope with Both

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When you’re pregnant after loss, it could be either — or both. Pregnancy brain and grief brain are real, and they also have similar symptoms and remedies. How can you tell the difference, and what can you do to cope with both? Keep reading for more details about pregnancy brain and grief brain.

What is Pregnancy Brain?

Pregnancy brain happens when you struggle to remember things, stay focused on tasks, or devote your undivided attention to something. It can start as early as the first trimester, and many pregnant people say this forgetful phenomenon continues throughout pregnancy and even into parenthood when it’s aptly dubbed “mommy brain.”

The research on this topic is mixed, but 80 percent of pregnant people report memory and attention challenges[1]“Does ‘Pregnancy Brain’ Exist?” by Laura Glynn, Scientific American, May 1, 2016, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-pregnancy-brain-exist/. What causes pregnancy brain? Most experts agree that hormonal surges, insomnia, and stress and anxiety contribute to this mental state. In addition, a study found that pregnancy causes physiological changes in the brain[2]“Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure,”  Hoekzema, E., Barba-Müller, E., Pozzobon, C. et al. Nat Neurosci 20, 287–296 (2017). … Continue reading. Scans showed reductions in gray matter volume, affecting social cognition. However, the literature also suggests that the gray matter decrease could be the brain’s way of making room for postpartum attachment.

How Do I Cope with Pregnancy Brain?

Sleep Well

Getting enough rest is crucial for memory and alertness because sleep resets your brain. If you have trouble falling asleep, take some time to quiet your mind before going to bed. Put away electronics and perhaps do some deep breathing. And if you can manage it, sneak in a nap during the day!

Eat Healthily and Hydrate

Staying nourished not only supports your growing baby, but it also helps with your brain health. There are even some foods that are proven to help with brain function. These include eggs, spinach, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in many types of fish, nuts, and seeds.

Set Reminders

Do you need to make a dentist appointment? Put a reminder in your phone. Did you notice that you’re low on milk? Add it to a grocery list in your Notes app. You can also use sticky notes or jot down reminders in a notebook. Whatever works for you is what’s best!

Ask for Help

This is a super important one! Don’t feel like you have to do everything when you’re pregnant after loss. Make sure your partner knows how you’re feeling. And ask a family member or friend to support you by doing chores, running errands, or providing child care.

Give Yourself Grace

Pregnancy after loss can be stressful and emotionally draining. If you forget something, try to let it go. Forgive yourself and move on. You may even be able to laugh at yourself in the near future. Having a sense of humor is a necessity throughout parenthood.

What is Grief Brain?

After a loss, you might struggle with forgetfulness or misplacing items. Grief brain often feels like operating with a general fuzziness or cloudiness[3]“Before and After Loss: A Neurologist’s Perspective on Loss, Grief and the Brain,” Lisa M. Shulman, MD, Johns Hopkins University Press, December 12, 2018, … Continue reading. It’s normal to experience these symptoms after the death of a loved one because your brain is flooded with feelings of sadness, loneliness, and other emotions[4]“‘Grief Brain’ What’s Going On?” Tensie Holland LSW, CT, February 2018, Hospice of the Western Reserve, … Continue reading.

Grief brain has similarities to pregnancy brain, but you can, of course, experience grief brain when you’re not pregnant. However, being pregnant after loss often means you feel both pregnancy brain and grief brain. It’s also important to note — even though you’re pregnant with a new life, you can still miss and grieve the baby you lost.

How Do I Cope with Grief Brain When Pregnant After Loss?

Some of the grief brain coping skills overlap those that are recommended for pregnancy brain. Sleeping well, making notes, asking for help, and having lots of grace for yourself will help grief brain, but there are a few other things you can try to manage your grief while growing a new life.

Set Reasonable Expectations

If you can’t do everything you did before your loss, that’s OK. You may need to suspend some tasks for a while and build back up to re-implementing them into your routine.

Recite Positive Affirmations

Remind yourself that this is a different pregnancy with a different outcome. Find affirmations that resonate with you and speak them aloud as often as you need to.

Journal

Write down your feelings, either by hand on paper or electronically on a computer or phone. Journaling can be a powerful form of processing and can help release feelings.

Recognize Progress

When you do complete a task that you weren’t sure was possible, acknowledge that. Perhaps you took a walk around the block even when you didn’t feel like leaving the house. Maybe you unloaded the dishwasher or prepared a meal. Celebrate your wins!

One final note about these mental shifts: If you’re struggling with pregnancy brain, grief brain, or both, and the strategies mentioned here don’t work, reach out to a mental health professional. Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are common following loss, even if you’re having a healthy subsequent pregnancy[5]“Grieving Through Pregnancy? What You Should Know,” GoodTherapy.org Staff, Good Therapy, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/grieving-through-pregnancy-what-you-should-know-0527187. Talking with a therapist can help you navigate the complicated journey of pregnancy after loss.

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