Fetal Kick Counts:  How To Do Them And Why They Are Critical

Fetal Kick Counts: How To Do Them And Why They Are Critical

Feeling your baby move can be one of the most exciting parts of a pregnancy. Its nice to have some confirmation that there is actually a tiny human in there!

But did you know that counting your baby’s kicks can help make sure they are healthy and possibly even prevent a tragedy?

There is strong evidence that counting fetal movements can reduce perinatal mortality in pregnancy.

Doing kick counts actually saved our baby girl’s life. If I hadn’t done them I wouldn’t have suspected that there was something terribly wrong and I wouldn’t have gone into the hospital.

When do moms start feeling fetal movements?

According to the American Pregnancy Organization you should start to feel some fetal movement between 18-25 weeks into pregnancy. For first-time moms, it may occur closer to 25 weeks, and for second or third-time moms, it may occur closer to 18 weeks or even a little earlier.

Why are fetal kick counts important?

Sarah and little Zoe

Our daughter was not moving as much while doing fetal kick counts during my first pregnancy. Intervention at that time was life saving.

Doctors only see moms every two to four weeks. According to Dr. Diep Nguyen, a Los Angeles OB/GYN “fetal movement is the best indicator of pregnancy health and is the best yardstick in between those times. If the baby is not growing well, it probably will slow down its activity way before it will stop moving all together.”

My own OB/GYN has expressed the same information to me. Especially ever since my placental abruption during my first pregnancy at 33 weeks.

Now that I am due in January with our baby boy, there is a part of me that is afraid that some sort of catastrophe could happen again. But I am doing daily kick counts and I am reassured that our baby boy is kicking quite frequently. If for some reason he slows down or stops I know to go right to the hospital to have things checked out.

When will I feel the most movement?

Moms generally find that the baby is most active between the hours of 9pm and 1am due to declining blood sugar levels. You my also feel more fetal movement after meals or eating sugary foods.

I have always felt that it is easier to feel the baby move when I lay down and pay closer attention. It is also a nice time for baby bonding and just getting some well-deserved mommy rest. When I am busy and moving around a lot it is harder to pay attention to what is going on inside my uterus.

How should kick counts been done?

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that you time how long it takes you to feel 10 kicks, flutters, swishes, or rolls. Ideally, you want to feel at least 10 movements within 2 hours. You will likely feel 10 movements in less time than that.

How to do kick counts:

1. Lay on your left side.

2. Count how many minutes it takes for you to feel 10 fetal movements (once you get to ten you can stop counting).

3. Do this once a day around the same time. I do it right before bedtime when my daughter is already asleep so I am not interrupted.

Charting fetal kick counts

Fetal kick count app

There are dozens of kick count apps to choose from, but this is the one I use.

You can use a calendar chart to document how many minutes it takes for you to feel 10 fetal movements. If your baby does not move at least 10 times in 2 hours or there is a sudden decrease in movement, you should contact your doctor right away.

There are dozens of fetal kick count apps available to make this even easier.

Having an app makes it so much easier. You can just set the time that you want to start doing kick counts and then tap on the phone each time you feel a kick. When you get to 10 kicks, the app tells you that you are done and records the total amount of time it took. The app also records the history of all your kick counting sessions so it is easy to review and see if there have been any decreases in activity.

Kick counting is an easy way to monitor baby’s well being in the womb.

Timely intervention after a mother complained of decreased fetal movements and the baby was found to be compromised on further evaluation has helped save many babies. I know from first hand experience that doing fetal kick counts can help divert a catastrophic event. It is always better to be safe then sorry!

Happy (and safe) pregnancy and thank you for reading!

Sarah, Mother Nurse Love

I Had A Placental Abruption At 33 Weeks: Our NICU Experience

I Had A Placental Abruption At 33 Weeks: Our NICU Experience

I had a spontaneous placental abruption when I was 33 weeks pregnant with my daughter.

A placental abruption occurs when the placenta (the lifeline delivering blood, oxygen and nutrients to our baby) peels away from the uterus. It deprives the fetus of oxygen and causes the mother to hemorrhage internally.

Luckily for us, I was able to have an early emergency c-section and we had a very happy outcome. After spending some time in the NICU our 33 week preemie daughter came home with us as a healthy 4 lb, 3 oz baby.

Sarah pregnant with Zoe

At my baby shower, one week before I had our daughter via emergency c-section at 33 weeks.

But it almost didn’t end up that way. Unfortunately, most mothers who have a placental abruption are not so lucky, according to our neonatologist. The reason, he said, is that babies end up being deprived of oxygen, sometimes within seconds. Mothers also end up losing a lot of blood, although they usually do better then the babies.

We still don’t know why it happened because I had no risk factors. Thankfully, I was able to have an emergency C-section in time and it was life-saving for the both of us.

I got the flu about 5 days before the placental abruption occurred.

As a nurse I already knew that just being sick doesn’t hurt the baby and may even give her a few extra antibodies. I decided the best thing to do was rest and drink lots of fluids.

But to my surprise, two days later I was feeling so much worse.

I called the OB floor at our hospital and was directed to an advice nurse.

After a 30 minute phone interview I was told NOT to come to the hospital as there was nothing they could do for me. I just had the flu, they said. I was told to stay home, rest and drink lots of fluids.

Two days after that I felt even worse! So again, I called the OB unit at the hospital to see what I should do.

I spoke with both the on-call OBGYN on the unit and another advise nurse. Both told me again NOT to come in. I explained that I was extremely weak and short of breath when walking more then 20 feet. I had no fever but I had never felt more sick in my life. They told me I just had the flu and needed to “ride it out.”

I laid in my bed and cried for 30 minutes because every inch of my body was hurting so much that I could barely stand it anymore. I had a hard time catching my breath.

(Later we found out that the reason I felt so horrible was that my hemoglobin was extraordinarily low due to the placental abruption already having started. My hemoglobin (the oxygen carrying component of a blood cell) at that time was 6 grams per deciliter. The normal level is 12.0 to 15.5 grams.)

I laid down for an hour and started doing “kick counts.”

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that you time how long it takes you to feel 10 kicks, flutters, swishes, or rolls. Ideally, you want to feel at least 10 movements within 2 hours. Usually a mom can feel 10 movements in less time than that.

But I only felt 4 or 5 movements in that hour period. My body was so sick and achy though that I wasn’t sure exactly what I was feeling, so I drank two large glasses of orange juice and ate a small bag of gummy Lifesavers. I was determined to sugar-shock my baby into giving me more fetal movements.

I began counting kicks for a second hour. But after about 40 minutes I still only counted about 3-4 pretty weak kicks. At that point I decided I wanted to see a doctor, even if they thought I was overreacting.

I called my husband and asked him to come home and drive me to the hospital.

When we arrived at the labor and delivery unit I was immediately given a mask and asked why I came to the hospital after I was specifically told not to. I was reminded that I was bringing my flu into the hospital.

I tried to explain again that I just didn’t feel right and that I thought the baby should be kicking more. They put me in a room and we waited for the on-call OBGYN.

When she arrived she did an ultrasound and was immediately concerned. She explained that:

A) I had almost no amniotic fluid.

B) The little amount of amniotic fluid that was there was the wrong color and she couldn’t explain why.

C) Our baby’s fetal heart rate was “not reassuring” which is another way of saying that our baby is alive but in distress.

D) It was likely I would have an emergency C-section imminently.

She didn’t know at that time I was actually having a placental abruption. Apparently it is very hard to diagnose on ultrasound.

(We later found out that the amniotic fluid was showing as the wrong color because it was actually blood, not amniotic fluid. I had already been bleeding into my uterus and our daughter was swallowing blood the whole time. After the C-section they pumped 15 cc’s of blood out of our daughter’s stomach and she pooped blood for the next few days.)

A team of preemie doctors came in to prepare us.

Preemie Baby Zoe

After finding out that a c-section was imminent, a team of preemie doctors came in to prepare us for what to expect after Zoe was born.

The preemie MDs explained in detail what would most likely happen to our daughter since she was coming out 7 weeks early. They said it was likely that our daughter would not be able to breathe on her own and that she would need to be intubated (using a machine that breathes for her). It the case that my baby didn’t cry after delivery, they wanted to make sure I was prepared for that possibility.

We were also told to prepare for 30 days in the NICU, which was the average length of stay for a “33 weeker.”

Within a few hours things got much worse.

Soon, I started hemorrhaging and was having what felt like one long contraction that wouldn’t stop.

Our OB determined that I was not actually in labor as my cervix was completely closed. She thought it was best to take the baby out right then because something was very wrong, but she didn’t know exactly what yet. I was wheeled across the hall for the emergency C-section.

Our daughter, Zoe Grace, was born.

Zoe came out at 4 pounds, 3 ounces. After being suctioned, she let out a tiny little cry that I will never forget. It was the best and most beautiful sound I had ever heard in my life.

The doctor was able to confirm during the c-section that I had a placental abruption. My placenta was 30% detached from my uterus.

The next day our neonatologist told us that Zoe had no signs of brain damage and we had a “very healthy baby considering the circumstances.”

He then let me know bluntly, and in no censored way that “babies born after a placental abruption usually don’t survive and the mothers don’t do that well either, although they do better then the babies.”

It was hard to have our baby in the NICU, but we were so grateful for the excellent care she received.

Preemie Baby Zoe

It was hard to have my baby in the NICU but we were so grateful for the excellent care she received.

The first time we saw her we were shocked. She was in an incubator hooked up to so many IV’s and tubes, and so tiny.

I wasn’t allowed to hold her yet. That part was so hard! But I could put my hands in the incubator and place one hand on the top of her head and one her feet. I remember telling her how proud we were of her. She was a tough baby right from the start.

Zoe had an oral-gastric feeding tube for nutrition since she was unable to eat for the first 7 days on her own. I would pump breast milk and give it to the nurses so they could feed her through the OG tube.

She was also receiving TPN (IV nutrition) and lipids (fats) through 2 IV lines. That was probably the most difficult part to watch- preemies veins are so tiny that it would often take an hour of poking to get the IV in. And they didn’t last very long so she was constantly being stuck with needles.

She was on oxygen and a cpap machine for the first week to help her continue breathing on her own. Since she also was very jaundiced, she had to be under a bilirubin light for 5 days.

Zoe got a little stronger every day.

Mom and Zoe in the NICU

As a preemie Zoe earned the nickname “tiny but mighty” from her doctors.  This was taken during week two in the NICU.

Zoe started doing more on her own, like eating through a preemie nipple and no longer needing the IV nutrition.

We were shocked on our 9th day in the NICU when we were informed that Zoe would be discharged the next day. I knew she was doing well but we were told that due to her stage of prematurity that she would stay for at least a month. She was so tiny I couldn’t believe they were letting us take her home.

My experience taught me a few things…

A) Mothers need to trust their instincts. We know much more then we give ourselves credit for.
B) At 28 weeks gestation it is important to start doing fetal kick counts.
C) It is so important to be grateful for the miracle of having a child.

I can’t imagine what my life would be like now if I hadn’t gone into the hospital that evening, especially after being instructed not to. It is so important to trust your instincts!

I am so blessed that I get to be a mom. Not everyone gets to have healthy baby, or a baby at all for that matter. Whenever I find myself getting frustrated with the difficulties that come with parenthood, I think about how close we were to not getting to have Zoe at all. That puts it all into perspective for me.

Zoe photo shoot

Zoe, 2 years old.  Spunky, hammy and giggling as usual.

Our daughter turned two today. And we are so grateful everyday for her presence in our lives.

Thank you for reading!

Sarah, Mother Nurse Love

 

I’m 28 Weeks! How This Pregnancy Is Different From My First

I’m 28 Weeks! How This Pregnancy Is Different From My First

I had an appointment with my OB two weeks ago and everything appears to be progressing normally with my pregnancy (thank goodness!).

However, I did have one tiny little scare. When looking at the screen I noticed that our baby was measuring at about 26 weeks, which totally freaked me out since I was 28 weeks.

When I brought it up to my doctor she said “No, everything looks great and you are 26 weeks.” To which I responded: “but I’m 28 weeks!” She looked at my dates and said, “No hon you’re 26 weeks and right on target!”

Seriously? How is that even possible? That is one of the biggest differences between my first pregnancy and my second. I was an entire two weeks off on how far along I was. And I have been so busy with a toddler that I didn’t even know it.

First pregnancies are magical. Second pregnancy’s are cool too, just way busier.

Sarah and little Zoe

Caring for this little one is a lot of fun. But I’m so much busier with a toddler these days that I lose track of time.

In my first pregnancy, I could tell you to the day exactly how far along I was. Weekly belly selfies were taken every Sunday to mark my progress. I knew exactly how big my baby was in terms of vegetable size, weight and length.

I practically studied fetal development on a daily basis. Weekly emails were delivered to my inbox telling me each and every detail of our baby’s milestones. I knew the exact time when she could open her eyes, suck her thumb, hear noises from outside the womb and every other possible developmental detail.

During my first pregnancy I practiced yoga at a studio several times a week, alternating between Vinyasa and prenatal. Then I would watch Netflicks and chill, sometimes marathon style. After all, why not? I was pregnant and I had the time.

Also, I also read every single baby book ever published (fyi, Baby Knows Best and Bringing Up Bebe where my favorites!).

My husband and I even started taking weekly Bradley Method classes. Which didn’t help me at all during my emergency c-section at 33 weeks. But hey, I ultimately still got my healthy baby girl, so who cares?

My second pregnancy has been cool too, sans all the extra me time that I had with my first. Toddler care taking has replaced pretty much all of those activities this time around. That is how I ended of forgetting how far along I was by two entire weeks!

Busyness aside, I love being a mom and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Baby Boy has reached eggplant size. Yum!

Sarah and Zoe, 28 weeks pregnant with #2

I’m trying to enjoy the joys of pregnancy while they are here. Despite the weird symptoms, there is something so amazing about being pregnant.

I have joined the third and final trimester, yahoo!

Our amazing veggie is now 14 1/2 inches and weighs in at 2 1/2 pounds. Right on track! Nice job, little dude.

Even though I haven’t met my mini-man yet, he has definitely been making an impact in my life. Many of the symptoms of my first pregnancy have returned. I’m suddenly clumsy. I’m fatigued. I have heartburn at least once a day. And I have the worst pregnancy brain (so embarrassing).

In addition, I have even welcomed a brand new pregnancy symptom that I didn’t have last time: lovely varicose veins, on my left leg only. They are SO delightful, I tell you. Once the temperatures finally dip below 90 in Los Angeles I’m going to have to resort to daily compression stockings – toe to waist – for the remainder of the third trimester. Pregnancy sure knows how to make a women feel sexy!

Zoe is going to have big sister responsibilities soon.

Zoe is going to have big sister responsibilities soon!

I love watching how my little girl is reacting to my belly bump with amazement. She now looks at it and says “baby” in the cutest, innocent voice. I don’t think she fully grasps that there is an actual human is in there… yet. But we are trying to verbalize it to her and are reading her a few children’s books about becoming a big sister.

Tonight she was able to say “baby boy” which pretty much melted my heart. She is going to be an excellent big sister! I can’t wait.

I have a few goals to reach before childbirth.

We are only five weeks away from the time when I had Zoe via emergency C-section. Although I am planning on having a full term baby, truth is that you can’t always plan ahead. Therefore, I have a few goals I am presently working on in advance:

#1.  Have a healthy full term baby.

I will be relieved to finally pass the 33 week mark. My doctor says the chances of having another placental abruption are extremely low, which is reassuring.

#2.  Continue working as ER nurse until it makes sense to stop.

With the help of my nifty 30mm graduated compression stockings, I am going to continue working as an emergency room nurse until I am either:

a) too big, or

b) too exhausted, whichever comes first.

As a per diem registered nurse I am not granted disability or maternity leave benefits. I can take up to 6 months time without losing my position, but I receive zero compensation before or after childbirth. Once I’m out, I’m out for a while. So I’m trying to hang in until it makes sense for me to stay home.

#3.  Figure out how to have a 2 year old and newborn share a bedroom without constantly waking one another up.

This one has been a real zinger for me as I can’t figure out how I’m going to make this work. The newborn will stay in our room for several months but then what?

If anyone has any tips on goal #3, I am all ears. Any expertise in this area is appreciated.

At the end of the day I am so thankful for a healthy, happy family.

Life is busy and tiring, but it’s all good. Pregnancy is a gift. Having children really is a miracle. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for a wonderful life and good health for my family and friends. That is the only thing that matters.

Thanks for reading.

Sarah, Mother Nurse Love

The Joys Of Pregnancy At 24 Weeks

The Joys Of Pregnancy At 24 Weeks

I am happy to announce that our pregnancy is entering its 24th week! Our little boy is growing faster by the day and weighs about 1.2 pounds. In a few more weeks I will be starting the 3rd and final trimester. Its all uphill from here!

Pedometer on Iphone

This is the app on my iphone. It reminds me to keep moving. Today at work I got 17,000 steps!

Sarcasm aside, I’m actually feeling pretty good these days, with the exception of a little fatigue and annoying pregnancy brain.  My bump is finally pretty obvious now so I so I can walk around proudly displaying a pregnant belly instead of just feeling full-figured and puffy.

I am still practicing yoga and working out when I can. My goal is to walk 10-15,000 steps a day, so I started using the activity app on my I-phone to track my progress. I admit, I am becoming so much dorkier as a second time mommy-to-be. I’m just a busy mom with a toddler trying to take good care of herself when she can.

Thankfully, this pregnancy has been pretty non-eventful. All of my prenatal testing has come back showing no signs of any health issues. Each appointment has gone smoothly without any big scares or hiccups (unlike my last pregnancy, which is a long story for another post!). I know nothing is 100% certain, but I feel optimistic that things will run relatively smoothly this time around (fingers crossed!).

The compression stockings are back (pregnancy is sexy!)

Last week I had to bring my lovely waist-high, graduated compression stockings back out of the drawer (they have been in hiding since the birth of our daughter in October of 2015).

As a nurse who works 12 hour shifts at a busy level 1 Trauma hospital, I have been a little concerned with the amount of time I spend in my feet everyday. I am specifically concerned about varicose veins which are a common side effect of pregnancy (and being a busy nurse). Pregnancy increases your blood volume by 50% and I’m also carrying an extra 12 pounds right now so its no wonder that my legs swell after 12 hours of being on my feet!

Woman wearing compressing stockings.

It just doesn’t get any sexier than maternity compression stockings (not my legs). The joys of pregnancy are many.

Alas! Compression stockings to my rescue! My legs are so much more energized at the end of a long shift after wearing compression stockings on then they are without them. They don’t feel swollen and they actually look visibly less swollen too.

I am sure you are profoundly intrigued and want details so I’ll tell you more about my compression stockings. I wear the Jobst 20-30 Waist High Closed Toe Compression Maternity Pantyhose. It just doesn’t get any sexier then that! Just a word of warning for ladies needing compression hosiery: this is not a place you want to be thrifty. I have tried the cheaper versions and quite frankly, they suck and are a waste of money. Mine are so well-made and will actually last through an entire pregnancy, unlike the cheaper ones.

I look like a whale trying to put them on in the morning. They are so tight on my legs it takes me about 6 minutes to get them all the way up (believe me, its a treat to watch!). Per recommendation, I put them on before I even get out of bed in the morning. Before the blood even has a chance to swim around my ankles.

I have a love/hate relationship with these darn things, but they work wonders I tell you. So I will continue to wear them until I stop working towards the end of this pregnancy.

More joys of pregnancy:  heart burn and nosebleeds

Due to daily, mild-to-severe bouts of heartburn, I have Tums strategically stashed in my work bag, the kitchen cupboard, the diaper bag, and at my bedside. Heartburn is just another great side effect of all those fantastic pregnancy hormones!

At about this time in my first pregnancy I started having frequent heartburn, which is something I never have had non-pregnant. Unfortunately, as I get bigger, it will only get worse.  Another one of the awesome joys of pregnancy that I get to deal with!

On another note, I luckily haven’t experienced any nosebleeds this yet. As mentioned earlier one of many fun physiologic changes during pregnancy is that your blood volume doubles. So nose bleeds can be unfortunate side effect. My last pregnancy I got a few nose bleeds right before laying down to sleep at night. Then I was up for over an hour each time trying to stop them!

VBAC or c-section?

At my 22 week appointment my OBGYN asked me of I wanted to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) or another c-section. She really caught by surprise by this question.

I was under the impression that since my last pregnancy resulted in a c-section (due to a placental abruption at 33 weeks) that I had to have another c-section. In fact, I thought it was considered dangerous not to. Friends have told me that they had to have c-sections for their subsequent babies since they had one the first time.

My OB explained that I was still a good candidate for vaginal birth since I didn’t have a situation that prevented me from having a natural birth while laboring in my first pregnancy. Like, for example, if the baby wouldn’t descend down the birth canal, or I had gestational diabetes or severe preclampsia while I was trying to deliver naturally. She said that for women in my situation, most are still able to have a successful vaginal delivery. (I’ve since done a bit of research, and it does look like the statistics are in my favor).

I never even had an opportunity to go into labor with my first pregnancy. Instead, I had a freaky, rare and life-threatening situation called a placental abruption at 33 weeks. (Essentially, my placenta detached from my womb. Not good.  You can read about that here.)

By some existential miracle our daughter is OK. She is perfect, actually. She is smart, funny, precocious, brave, and absolutely amazing in 1000 different ways. On Halloween Day she will be two years old.

Anyways, back to my VBAC versus c-section decision. I have done a lot of thinking about it lately. Due to the fact that I will have a 2 year-old at home to take care of in addition to a newborn, I have decided to forgo my original c-section plan in lieu of a new VBAC plan.

My reasoning: a c-section requires major abdominal surgery that cuts through many abdominal muscles resulting in weeks of recovery. I want to be able to take care of my family the best I can when I get back home. Another c-section will make that even more difficult for me.

So my new plan is to have a regular, vaginal delivery. That is, if I can help it. If there is any concern whatsoever over the health of the baby, by all means, I’m 100% all for having another c-section. Priority #1 is to have another healthy baby.

There is no rest with a toddler in a second pregnancy

Zoe and Mom sleeping on couch

It just doesn’t get any better than a sleeping baby Zoe.

I don’t have the time to rest like I did in my first pregnancy. I do get tired and nap on my days off when my daughter naps. Working in the ER now is also much more tiring. It’s doable, just harder.

Fortunately, in some ways I also feel more resilient then before. I know what to expect this time around so there are fewer surprises. I’m not checking my baby apps every week to see what developmental stage our baby is in (I wouldn’t have the time to anyway). I just get to be pregnant and focus on what ever is going on that day.

That may be the biggest unexpected benefit of pregnancy the second time around. I’m forced to live in the present because I’m so busy and I have an extremely energetic toddler to take care of.

And I’m feeling the baby kick a lot! I love that part.

Weird side effects and all, I am glad to have the opportunity to go through pregnancy a second time. This will be the last time so I’m trying to enjoy it while I can.

Thanks for reading!

Sarah, Mother Nurse Love

Pregnancy Brain:  Is It Real?

Pregnancy Brain: Is It Real?

*This post contains affiliate links.  For more information about my disclosure policy click here.

Is “pregnancy brain” a real phenomenon?

As I enter my 24th week of pregnancy I have found myself being unusually forgetful, feeling more mentally foggy, and even using the wrong words in conversation. More then a few times in recent days I have felt like I might even be losing my mind.

Over the years I have had many friends joke about having so-called “pregnancy brain.” But like many other things people say about becoming a Mom, I thought it was just a pregnancy myth or an excuse for lazy thinking.

The curse of the pregnancy brain

Here are a few examples of my experience recently with what I assume has to be pregnancy brain:

Two nights ago, a physician at a vendor dinner program asked me the names of some of the physicians that I work with in our emergency department. Suddenly, my mind couldn’t recall the names of anyone I work with. Literally, not one single person! Mind you, I have been working in the ER at my hospital for 9 months and know the entire department by name very well. My brain just froze.

At work recently, I was trying to think of the gelatinous, clear, rubbery food we often give patients in the hospital to eat while they are on a clear liquid diet. 10 minutes later it came to me. Jell-O. Duh!

While shopping for groceries I referred to blueberries as strawberries. Then at home I referred to our tile as carpet. Then, at lunch with friends a few days ago I stated that Zoe was going to have a little sister soon, but I’m having a boy! And it still took me a few seconds to realize it and correct myself.

Pregnancy brain has affected my writing as well. I will come up with an amazing idea that I would love to research and write about. Then when I finally sit down to organize my thoughts I can’t think of what I wanted to say. It is so annoying!

Brain changes during pregnancy

Neurons in the brain

Neurons in the brain. Pregnancy doesn’t “shrink” the brain, but it does temporarily restructure it a bit. Why? Studies say it’s nature’s way of helping us adjust to motherhood and protect our babies.

A 2016 study in Nature Neuroscience showed that pregnancy causes substantial changes in brain structure. The primary changes included “reductions in grey matter volume in regions subserving social cognition.”

(For those who don’t know, grey matter is the “thinking” part of the brain, and a major component of the central nervous system. It is where our intelligence lives.)

The study found that pregnancy causes new mothers’ brains to be more efficiently wired in areas that allow them, for example, to respond to their infant’s needs or be more alert to dangers in their infants’ environment. In other words, the brain doesn’t actually “shrink,” it just restructures it self a bit.

Essentially, the loss in grey matter in the mother was due to those same brain regions responding to their babies post birth. In fact, a few studies I read stated that the loss in grey matter was directly correlated to the mothers’ attachment to her child postpartum.

At first read, it appeared as if mother nature was temporarily lowering my IQ a bit in order to help me be more attentive to my babies’ needs after they arrive.  Awesome!

Joking aside, at least I have an explanation for my mental fogginess and word confusion. I am actually kind of relieved that I’m not just losing my mind!

Pregnancy brain may actually be a good thing

The same study also found that the grey matter changes actually predicted how maternally attached we are to our babies’ after birth. This was thought to be nature’s way of transitioning mothers into the ginormous changes that come with being a new mom.

This actually makes sense to me. Anyone who has been a mother knows that the life changes that come with a baby are huge. At least for a good while.

There is some good news though. They found that the grey matter reductions lasted for two years after birth. So I won’t have permanent brain damage after all. Phew!

Additional benefits to pregnancy brain

Baby Zoe and Mom

Studies are showing that maternal brain changes last two years post birth.

Laura Glynn, a professor and chair of the department of psychology at Chapman University, stated that not only does pregnancy brain exist, but there are important benefits to a vulnerable infant. For example, pregnant women are “better at recognizing fear, anger and disgust” which may aid mothers in using their emotions to ensure their infant’s survival.

In addition, Glynn stated that the pregnancy hormones estrogen and oxytocin are associated with heightened maternal responsiveness and sensitivity to the environment and infants’ needs.

There are several articles connecting pregnancy brain with gaining additional ability to be a better mother. In fact, the more I read about pregnancy brain the more I think it may not be such a negative thing after all. If it can help me be a better mother, especially in those first few crazy, sleep deprived months, perhaps I can even accept it as a blessing and not a curse.

Managing pregnancy brain

I now know that there are actual benefits to pregnancy brain. But I still need to continue my job as responsible mother of a toddler and ER nurse, and be a functional human being. So what do I do in the meantime? To be frank, the idea of pregnancy brain does seem a little depressing. It makes me feel more tired and less productive, and it doesn’t fit my active personality which really annoys the crap out of me.

Here are a few ideas I am working on that may help with pregnancy brain:

1.  Exercise regularly

Pregnant woman doing yoga.

Evidence shows that women who exercise during pregnancy have smarter babies.

The research on the positive benefits of exercise on the brain are endless. It is pretty widely known in the medical field that exercise improves memory and thinking skills.

But, did you know that exercise during pregnancy helps your baby’s brain as well? According to a study in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, children of moms who exercised during pregnancy “scored higher on tests of language skills and intelligence at age 5 compared with the kids of sedentary moms.” Apparently, moderate levels of cortisol (a stress hormone secreted during exercise) promotes brain development in your baby.

I’m sold! What is good for me is apparently good for my baby too. My goal is to continue to practicing yoga and walking at least 10,ooo steps a day. I am using the heart app on my iphone to measure my progress.

2.  Have a good calendar system and to-do list

I write everything down in my iphone calendar or my do-to list. If its not written down, then it often doesn’t happen. You’ve got to have a plan because its impossible to remember everything in your head.

In addition, my husband and I have a dry erase calendar system on our refrigerator (I know we could just sync our I-phone calendars but it just helps us to see it visually). We write down all of our work and personal activities including work dinners, social events, appointments, play dates, date nights and even gym schedules. When one of us knows about a schedule update, it goes up on the board. I have 2 calendars on the fridge so we can always stay one month ahead. This system minimizes 99% of schedule confusion and almost completely eliminates double booking anything. It is a marriage win.

3.  Continue to practice gratitude

I have to remind myself that there is no point in getting frustrated about nature’s effects on my pregnancy. I am so grateful to be adding a baby boy into our family in a few short months, and the physical and mental changes are worth it all. As a nurse I am all too aware of how not everyone gets to have a family or even healthy children. A healthy pregnancy is a gift.

There is a meditation app called Headspace that I sometimes use that has the added benefit of helping me find more gratitude in my life. I wrote a little about that here.

4.  Get enough sleep

I am an ER nurse and the mother of a toddler, which means my only free time is during the hours when I probably should be getting more rest (after my daughter goes to bed at 7:30pm). I am really working on trying to be in bed no later then 9:30 or earlier if possible. Pregnant or not, sleep deprivation will make anyone’s brain not work at it’s best.

Not getting enough sleep can contribute to mental health disorders including antepartum and postpartum depression. In other words, the pregnant mom + good sleep = better brain health.

One way to find extra time in your life is to cut down on the amount of social media you use. You would be amazed at the amount of time gained back by completely eliminating it for a while.

5.  Get the recommended amount of Omega 3s

Newborn baby feet

What is good for mom is apparently good for baby too! It appears that both exercise and healthy food choices are good for everyone’s brain health.

Omega 3’s are good for both mom and babies’ brain health. They are important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavior function.

I try to eat wild salmon twice a week and add flax seed to our morning smoothies. I also take an omega 3 supplement for pregnancy.

Accepting the joys of pregnancy (brain)

I already knew that delivering a few gorgeous babies meant making some sacrifices along the way. Understanding why these changes happen helps me accept them as a natural part of the motherhood process. The more I read and talk about how motherhood is supposed to change me, the easier it is to make positive adjustments and deal with it.

I am accepting my pregnancy brain as a blessing, not a curse, despite the occasional idiot thing I might do or say. Especially since the research says my brain will not be lost forever.

Motherhood is a mountainous emotional and physical transition so I’m really trying to lighten up on myself a bit. Mother nature sure does have an interesting sense of humor though. The least I can do is laugh at myself a little.

Sarah, Mother Nurse Love

Additional Recommended Reading

Pregnant Nurse Precautions To Consider At Work

Important Facts About Premature Birth

Why I Am So Lucky To Be Full Term

Pregnancy Kick Counts:  What I Learned About Fetal Movement