From dreams about journeys to nightmares about delivery, experts tell WebMD how pregnant women can decipher the secrets of their sleep.
Reviewed By Cynthia Haines
"I would dream I was going on a trip to Paris," says Jill Feddersen, a new mother in Massachusetts who had a baby girl in July. "I was totally unprepared and scared, and I was going with a tour group and I would tell them, 'I can't go -- I've got things to do at home and I'm not packed.' But, they would get me on the plane and I'd have to go."
Dreams like this are frequent in pregnant women. In fact, dreams of all types increase during pregnancy.
"There is a greater amount of actual dreaming and dream recall when a woman is pregnant than at any other time during her life," says Patricia Garfield, PhD. "The dreams will relate to her condition of pregnancy, the trimester she is in, and what is going on in her body at the time."
Why is there an increase in dreaming during pregnancy, and what do these dreams mean -- like the dream Feddersen had of going on a journey? Experts decipher the vivid dreams of pregnant women for WebMD.
A Feast of Dreams
"The changes in hormone levels bring on a feast of dreams in pregnant women," says Garfield, who is author of Creative Dreaming and co-founder of the Association for the Study of Dreams. "In addition, pregnant women need to sleep more, and the more you sleep, the more you dream."
Women also seem to dream more during pregnancy because they are more likely to remember their dreams.
"Twenty to twenty-five percent of your sleep is a dream state, and women who are pregnant are more likely to remember more of that percentage," says Garfield.
Garfield explains that dream recall is related to recency. For example, if a baby is moving within the womb and causing the mother to wake, or the mother is waking up to go to the bathroom more often as pregnant women do, she is more likely to remember a dream she just had than if she slept through the night, remembering only the last dream she had before waking in the morning.
With increased recall, a pregnant woman is able to remember the vividness, detail, and color of her dreams. But what do these dreams mean?
The First and Second Trimesters
"Dream content changes as a woman's body changes," says Garfield. "Her dreams echo her changing condition and both her hopes and her fears about the coming child."
For instance, explains Garfield, during the first trimester, dreams about water and fertility are quite common.
"Typically, during the first trimester, there are a lot of dreams that contain what we call fertility imagery -- garden, fruits, flowers," says Garfield. "There are often images of water and swimming, as the womb gathers amniotic fluid."
Water is a common theme during the initial stages of pregnancy.
"A fetus floating in water or a fish in water are common dreams," says Karen Muller, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Hayward, Calif. "The mother swimming through water is also common and can relate to her identifying with the fetus."
In the second trimester, dreams start to reflect the changes in the baby and the mother's body.
"There are a lot of dreams about little animals and other things that may represent babies," says Muller. "There are also a lot of dreams about changed architecture that parallel body changes."
The Third Trimester
In the third trimester, dreams seem more telling.
"In the third trimester, there are more specific dreams about the baby -- a baby may tell the mother her name in a dream, or a woman may dream about the baby's sex," Garfield tells WebMD.
Jennifer O'Shea, a pediatrician in Massachusetts, is pregnant with her first child and doesn't know the sex of the child yet.
"We decided against finding out the sex of the baby," says O'Shea. "Then I had a dream I was in my obstetrician's office and one of the staff let slip that it was a girl, and it was so realistic. That is the difference between dreams now and when I wasn't pregnant -- they seem so real now. I wake up and wonder if that just happened or if I was dreaming."
Dreams about journeys are also frequent in the third trimester -- like the dream Jill Feddersen had.
"There are often dreams about journeys or going on a trip, or packing, which can reflect a fear of the unknown," says Garfield.
Also common during the third trimester are dreams about having difficulties during labor, and although these dreams may be troublesome, they are very normal and may be a good sign.
"One study that was interesting found that women who had more nightmares about labor had shorter and easier deliveries," says Garfield. "The thought being that the women were practicing in their dreams and mastering the situation, and were therefore able to do better."
Nightmares During Pregnancy
Nightmares, about labor and delivery as well as the baby and motherhood, are also common, as fears and anxieties are echoed in dreams.
"There is a lot of concern during pregnancy, especially with a new mom," says Garfield. "This concern expresses itself in fearful dreams."
For instance, a woman may dream she drops her baby, or she may dream that she is holding her baby and the baby comes apart, explains Garfield.
"These dreams reflect anxiety related to whether or not a mother can handle a new baby," says Garfield. "Even if a woman is happy, pregnancy can stir a sense of uncertainty."
While these dreams are normal, for many women, they can understandably cause worry.
"Warnings that come in dreams should be taken seriously -- not literally," says Muller. "But I think it's worth mentioning anxiety dreams, which in general are normal, to your doctor. Experienced doctors know to listen to pregnant women, who know what's going on with their bodies, sometimes in an uncanny way."
The plots of dreams during pregnancy vary from disconcerting, to beautiful and joyous.
"There are many types of dreams during pregnancy, since it is the highest amount of dreaming that takes place during a woman's life," says Garfield. "Some of them are even beautiful -- dreams about birthdays, or holidays or ceremonies, which may reflect a conclusion or a joyful celebration."
While a woman's dreams during pregnancy echo her changing condition, the baby growing within her, and her hopes and fears, she should keep in mind that they are normal and talk to her doctor when concerns arise, and for nine months, let the secrets of her sleep tell vivid and colorful stories.
Originally published Sept. 15, 2003.
Medically updated February 2005.
SOURCES: Patricia Garfield, PhD, author, Creative Dreaming; co-founder and president, Association for the Study of Dreams. Karen Muller, PhD, Association for the Study of Dreams; clinical psychologist, Hayward, Calif.
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