In the past week, I’ve lost my twenty-one-month-old daughter at a store; I’ve failed to protect her from a fall that resulted in a bad injury; I found out that my husband got another woman pregnant; and I kissed the boy that I was in love with throughout high school. My dream life is out of control, and it’s wreaking havoc on my emotions. As if I don’t already have enough to deal with being six months pregnant and having a toddler to chase after—my fantasy life is making me feel like a mess.
Fortunately, I’m not the only one. One friend recently told me about dreaming that her first-born child turned out to be a dog. Another friend started having intense sexual dreams about Matt Damon after her doctor told her that she needed to be on pelvic rest for the final six weeks of her pregnancy. Pregnancy can cause all sorts of crazy symptoms, including a much more active dream life.
Why Does Pregnancy Disrupt Our Dreams?
A recent study by Tore Nielsen, PhD, described in the September 2007 issue of the journal Sleep, concluded that there are several contributing factors. Increased emotional influence, sleep deprivation, and altered hormone levels all factor into the prevalence of dreams during pregnancy. This study supports the idea that it’s normal to have bizarre dreams during pregnancy. Not only is pregnancy often an emotional roller coaster ride for the mother-to-be, but body changes can disrupt sleep and hormone levels can be all over the place. These factors contribute to the wild dreams that commonly occur for women throughout pregnancy.
Although dreams during pregnancy can often be bizarre, they may be a helpful way for an expectant mother to get in touch with what she is experiencing emotionally. Our dreams can reflect emotional issues that our minds are trying to work through. Looking for themes in our dreams can lead to a better understanding of what we are going through emotionally, especially as we work through the anxiety of welcoming a new child into our life.
For example, by tracking my dream patterns during pregnancy, I continuously noticed the theme of anxiety about my inadequacy as a mother. Although I wouldn’t have been able to articulate my rising levels of anxiety otherwise, my dreams indicated to me that I’m experiencing intense fears about my ability to adequately care for two children. I have fears about how I will meet my toddler’s needs once the new baby arrives. I’m also grieving the loss of time that my daughter and I have spent just the two of us. I will miss having the opportunity to give her as much attention as I do now. Although the specifics of my dreams are somewhat arbitrary, looking at the themes and patterns has helped me identify the anxiety I’m feeling about caring for not one, but two children. Dreams about properly caring for children are common among pregnant women.
Other common fears during pregnancy, according to Eisenberg, Murkoff, and Hathaway in What to Expect When You Are Expecting, include: vulnerability, being tied down and deprived of freedom, changes to appearance, appeal to partner and his/her commitment to you (I’ve clearly been working through this one, too), sexual confusion and ambivalence, and bonding with the baby. Fears can manifest themselves in our dreams in a variety of different ways. The good news is that none of us is alone in our anxiety about the changes that a new baby will bring. Identifying common themes and fears can help normalize what we are going through.
The focus of dreams during pregnancy often changes throughout the various stages of pregnancy. First trimester dreams may focus on anxiety about birth and motherhood, self-consciousness about your changing body, and awareness of your amniotic fluid. Second trimester dreams may be about the mother-baby connection, your appearance, or concern about your partner’s level of love or commitment. Third trimester dreams are commonly about predicting your baby’s sex, picturing the baby’s face, or naming the baby. During each stage, you are working through various aspects of the process of being pregnant and becoming a mom.
What We Can Learn
If we pay attention to our dreams, they can do more for us than simply cause an unsettling feeling when we wake up in the morning. As Eisenberg, Murkoff, and Hathaway explain, “Though dreams and fantasies can be more anxiety-provoking in pregnancy than they are at other times, they can also be more useful. If you listen to what your motherhood fantasies are telling you about your feelings and deal with them now, you can make the transition into real-life motherhood more easily.” The transition of becoming a new mom or of adding another child to your family can be very difficult. Our dreams can be a valuable resource to help make this transition as smooth as possible.
If you’re interested in becoming more in touch with what your dreams during pregnancy might mean, you can track your dreams in an online pregnancy dream journal, like the one at BabyCenter.com . Using a resource such as a dream journal can be helpful in identifying common themes in various dreams. As you start to identify fears that are surfacing during your dreams, give yourself an opportunity to work through the anxiety that you are feeling, perhaps by talking it over with your spouse or writing about it in your journal.
Dreams while you’re expecting a child can be loaded with meaning. If you pay attention, you may be able to use your dreams to better understand your emotional state throughout your pregnancy. Being able to articulate what you are going through can help prepare both you and your partner for the birth of your child. The next morning that I find myself frantically running into my daughter’s room to ensure that I have not actually misplaced her during the night, I will remind myself to spend some extra time that day reflecting on why I’m feeling inadequate and what I can do to help myself feel more prepared for becoming a mother of two.
Updated February 26, 2009