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"Mom brain" — forgetfulness, disorganization and an ability to concentrate — is indeed real and not necessarily a sign of depression. If you are suffering from other unpleasant symptoms as well, however, you may be dealing with postpartum depression.

You have probably heard of "mom brain", sometimes also jokingly referred to as "momnesia". This phenomenon, until recently anecdotal rather than scientific, is familiar to numerous mothers — who have themselves experienced increased forgetfulness, disorganization and general "fogginess", or in short, impaired cognitive function, including trouble concentrating

If you are here because you are a new mom and you're wondering if your lack of concentration, apparent memory loss, and lack of coordination is one of the signs of postpartum depression, we can tell you straight up that it is. [1] More about that later, though.

A meta-analysis of 14 other studies found that executive functioning, that is, a person's planning and organizing capabilities, are indeed adversely affected during pregnancy and the postpartum period [2]. Likewise, the sleep disturbances new mothers typically experience are associated with changes in cognitive function, including concentration difficulties [3]. 

In other words, though an inability to concentrate, general forgetfulness, and disorganization are indeed frequently present in women suffering from postpartum depression, the phenomenon of "mom brain", taken in isolation, is not enough to determine whether you are depressed — you might simply be a typical new mother. 

How Does Difficulty Concentrating Fit Into The Wider Picture Of Postpartum Depression?

As we have seen, a lack of concentration during the postpartum period is frequently non-pathological, a side effect of the many hormonal, physical and emotional changes new mothers go through. To put it simply, an impaired ability to concentrate on daily tasks and activities such as reading or meal planning does not point to postpartum depression unless you are, in fact, depressed as well.

Studies also, however, indicate that healthcare providers often dismiss the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression as results of normal physiological changes postpartum mothers go through. [4]

On top of that, research shows that only 18 percent of postpartum women who meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression seek help, both because they too believe their feelings are normal features of the postpartum period and due to stigma. [5]. Since timely diagnosis and subsequent treatment leads to the most favorable outcomes in women suffering from postpartum depression [6], being proactive about seeking help, and understanding how your lack of concentration may fit into the wider picture of postpartum depression, can benefit you. 

Postpartum depression signs are [see 1]:

  • A lack of concentration. 
  • A depressed mood — feelings of sadness, hopelessness, emotional numbness, frequent crying spells — for most of the day nearly every day. 
  • Invasive feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
  • Loss of enjoyment or interest in all or most activities. 
  • Appetite changes and weight fluctuations.
  • Insomnia, or sleeping excessively
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Thoughts about death, with or without actively suicidal thoughts, and thoughts about harming your baby or your baby being harmed by others.

What Causes Lack Of Concentration In People Suffering From Depression?

Interestingly, research shows that depression (including postpartum depression) leads to physical changes in the brain, namely blood flow reduction and a reduction in the volume of the subgenual region of the brain — which plays a large role in executive function. This means that changes in a depressed person's daily functioning appear to be the result of brain changes, rather than being secondary to to the mood disturbances association with depression. Though still poorly understood, the brain changes seen in people suffering from major depressive disorders could likewise explain the causes of depression. The good news, however, is that recovery from depression is associated with a reversal of these alterations. [7, 8]

I Think I Have Postpartum Depression — What Should I Do Next?

Should you have given birth in the last two weeks and be affected by feelings of period sadness, crying spells, fatigue, and an inability to concentrate, you might be dealing with the so-called Baby Blues, a mild form of depression that typically resolves after a few weeks. There is data to suggest that those affected by the Baby Blues are more likely than others to go on to experience full-blown postpartum depression, however, so remain vigilant and seek help if your symptoms persist [9].

You may suffer from postpartum depression if you have been experiencing symptoms on most days for a large portion of the day over a period of at least two weeks. Treatment guidelines depend on the severity of your depression, but always begin with psychotherapy. This can be followed up with antidepressant medication, and, where the depression is severe and the mother experiences suicidal thoughts after having a baby or infanticidal thoughts, inpatient treatment. Seeking treatment as soon as you can will allow you to receive the help you need, and also helps prevent your depression from becoming chronic. [10]