Women who are about to have babies sometimes have a tough time sleeping — and when they do, their dreams may make them sorry for their slumber.
Pregnancy dreams are those sometimes exhilarating, sometimes frightening, frequently odd and usually vivid visions that pregnant women experience on a regular basis. What is it about pregnancy that causes a woman’s psyche to kick into overload and flood the brain with scenes like tadpoles, ripe fruit, cuddly animals and bodies of water? Why does pregnancy cause a sleeping woman to imagine reuniting with old boyfriends or courageously fighting off threatening intruders?
Blame it on hormones, specifically progesterone, says Patricia Garfield, Ph.D., a dream expert and author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Dreams (Ballantine Books; $9.95). The more we sleep, the more we dream. The strange contents of pregnancy dreams however, can be explained by a woman’s subconscious need to work through the normal fears and joyful expectations that precede a baby's birth. Research says that just as a woman’s body undergoes radical changes in preparation for birth, so too does her mind as it prepares for the biggest psychological change of a lifetime.
While dreams of any sort can occur at any time during pregnancy, certain themes tend to appear more often during particular stages of gestation.
Subconsciously aware of her powerful fertility, newly pregnant women may dream of plants, seeds, vines and fruit. Literature is full of gardening metaphors for pregnant women, referring to a growing stomach as “ripening” or “blossoming.” In the Bible, Elizabeth tells her cousin Mary, "blessed is the fruit of thy womb." This fruitfulness is often found in dreams, such as walking through forests, planting flowers or picking grapes. Garfield says the nursery is a word that means “a place where children are cared for as well as a place where plants are raised.”
Whether mom-to-be is influenced by pictures of developing fetuses in childbirth books or by the tiny flutters in her womb, dreaming of tadpoles, fish or other water-dwelling creatures is also common during the early stages of pregnancy. Perhaps because of the ability — much like that of a baby — to evolve from life in the water to one on land, amphibians also appear in an unusual number of expectant women’s dreams.
Just as a new mother’s belly grows, so do the animals in a new mama’s dreams. During the second trimester, Garfield says, a pregnant woman’s dreams may contain animals that are more babylike, such as pups, chicks and kittens. It sounds weird, but it’s perfectly normal.
With constant nausea and naps behind her — for most pregnant women, anyway — an expectant woman starts feeling more energized and sexy. So it’s no surprise that the second trimester may feature romantic escapes starring old boyfriends or movie stars. And not so fun: when a mom-to-be dreams of her husband having an affair, it may indicate feelings of insecurity and unattractiveness.
As the due date approaches, it’s not uncommon for a woman to dream about giving birth, as though she is mentally rehearsing for the big day.
“I’d have these fairy tale dreams of the perfect labor and delivery; the kind they once showed on TV, where the woman glistens lightly with perspiration while her loving husband holds her hand and whispers words of encouragement,” recalls 30-year-old Susan, mother of two. “My entire family comes in for the final push and everyone breaks into tears at the sight of the newest family member. In this dream, my hair is long and perfectly styled and I look gorgeous without a hint of make-up. There is no agony, contraction monitors, IVs, stitches or hospital gowns,” she adds.
Many women report more realistic, sometimes even frightening, dreams of labor and delivery, and other types of nightmares. In a study involving more than 1,000 dreams of 406 pregnant women, 40 percent of them contained an element of fear or some type of pain. Feeling like her body is out of her control and that she’s a victim to the process of childbirth is normal, but how a woman reacts to those feelings in the midst of her dreams can actually help her when she’s really in labor.
Garfield says that “researchers find that women who are assertive or even aggressive when they are threatened in nightmares have a different and usually more positive childbirth experience than those who remain passive victims.” Some childbirth educators even counsel patients to attempt to behave aggressively in their dreams, in order to gain confidence in their abilities to psychologically take charge of their fears.
And remember the animals? If a woman dreams of guppies during her first trimester and puppies during the second, she might just see larger creatures like whales and cows in the third. Dreaming about newborn babies or even older children are common, too. These baby dreams can range from the comforting visions of a mother singing to her infant to unsettling scenarios such as leaving the baby behind or becoming lost and unable to find the baby, which are just the brain’s way of expressing a new parent’s feelings of inadequacy or simply feeling unprepared for the momentous life changes ahead.
Write It Down
Scary, weird, romantic or idyllic, pregnancy dreams are like none other. But no matter how strange or fantastic, they’re all normal responses to the changes taking place in your body and life. So keep a notebook on the bedside table and take a minute to record your dreams to analyze them later. Local libraries are full of dream interpretation books that list the most common dream images and suggestions for what they may mean. A dream log is also a fun addition to a baby book; something exciting for your children to read when they are grown or expecting a child of their own. Discussing your dreams with your spouse or a friend is helpful, too. It’s a great way to work through feelings of anxiety as well as have a healthy laugh about the odd assortment of people, creatures and situations your mind treats you to each night!