Individual and cultural differences in experiences of baby/pregnancy brain : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University, Wellington Campus, New Zealand
Recent research has found that grey brain matter reduces during pregnancy. This loss is thought to result in a phenomena popularly known as ‘baby/pregnancy brain’ (BB). Research in this area has focused mainly on structural brain changes and quantifying deficits in cognitive function during pregnancy with relatively little attention given to the individual and subjective perceptions of cognitive change. Therefore, this thesis will review current findings regarding BB; and present the results of an online survey regarding BB from the perspective of mothers, midwives and
friends/family of mothers. This study utilised a mixed qualitative and qualitative approach. The primary objective was to establish whether experiences of cognitive deficits are universal across New Zealand Māori and European cultures; and secondly, to present particular problems associated with BB and successful coping methods employed to accommodate/avoid BB.
Due to the low response to the surveys, particularly by Māori, midwives and friends/family, the view on the influence of culture on BB experiences was severely compromised. As a result the focus of the research was changed to an analysis of the responses to the ‘mother’ survey, rather than focusing on group belief systems. This provided insight into how BB is perceived and experienced by mothers, their key coping methods and the possible elements which may have contributed to their accounts of BB.
The mothers surveyed were generally able to cope successfully with the symptoms of BB. However, awareness of the benefits to wellbeing of social support, adequate rest and a healthy lifestyle should be encouraged more strongly in informal social and formal medical care contexts to combat social isolation, cognitive function deficits, anxiety and low moods. Importantly, there
is a need to define BB more comprehensively, so that it may be better characterised in research and in discussions amongst/between medical staff and pregnant women.