Characterizing Literacy and Cognitive Function during Pregnancy and Postpartum

Lynn M Yee*, Leslie A. Kamel, Zara Quader, Priya Varadha Rajan, Shaneah M. Taylor, Rachel O'Conor, Michael Wolf, Melissa A Simon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


Objective The objective of this study was to characterize health literacy and cognitive function in a diverse cohort of pregnant women. Methods Pregnant and postpartum women underwent in-depth assessments of health literacy/numeracy and the cognitive domains of verbal ability, working memory, long-term memory, processing speed, and inductive reasoning. Differences by demographic characteristics and gestational age were assessed using chi-square tests and multivariable logistic regression. Results In this cohort of pregnant (N = 77) or postpartum (N = 24) women, 41.6% had limited health literacy/numeracy. Women were more likely to score in the lowest quartile for literacy and verbal ability if they were less educated, younger, nonwhite or had Medicaid. These factors were associated with low scores for long-term memory, processing speed, and inductive reasoning. Although there were no differences in literacy or cognitive function by parity or gestational age, postpartum women were more likely to score in the lowest quartile for processing speed (adjusted odds ratio [aOR]: 3.79, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.32-10.93) and inductive reasoning (aOR: 4.07, 95% CI: 1.21-13.70). Conclusion Although postpartum status was associated with reduced inductive reasoning and processing speed, there were no differences in cognitive function across pregnancy. Practice Implications Postpartum maternal learning may require enhanced support. In addition, cognitive skills and health literacy may be a mediator of perinatal outcomes inequities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)927-934
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican journal of perinatology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017



  • cognitive function
  • decision
  • health inequity
  • health literacy
  • memory
  • pregnancy brain
  • processing speed

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology

Cite this