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Bizarre Dreams Reflect Pregnancy Angst

Dreams About Baby in Danger Common for New Mothers, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 4, 2007 -- Bizarre dreams during pregnancy and the newborn period are common and reflect women's anxiety about upcoming childbirth and their parental responsibility, a new study shows.

Pregnant women often have nightmares about the upcoming birth, dreaming especially about complications. New mothers often have bizarre dreams about misplacing the newborn or forgetting to return him to the crib.

"It's an unusual type of dream," says Tore Nielsen, PhD, a psychologist at the Sleep Research Centre at Sacred Heart Hospital in Montreal and the researcher of the study. "In many ways it is like the Hollywood stereotypical nightmare. The person is acting out ... speaking out. That's not how usual nightmares occur."

His study is published in the Sept. 1 issue of the journal Sleep.

Triggering the bizarre dreams during pregnancy and the newborn period, Nielsen says, is a combination of sleep disruption and "the intense emotions that go along with being a new mother." Fluctuating hormones no doubt contribute, too, he says.

Included in those intense emotions, he says, is the fear of not measuring up as a new parent. "The dreams [of the new moms] had this kind of peril nature," Nielsen says. "The mother leaves the baby with someone and forgets to pick him up. The mother accidentally leaves a baby in a changing room."

Study Details

In the study, Nielsen and his colleagues evaluated 273 women assigned to three groups: new mothers, pregnant women, or never-pregnant women. The women all completed questionnaires about sleep and personality. Those who were pregnant answered questions about their pregnancy and birth. They were all asked about recent dreams and nightmares.

Between 88% and 91% of women in all groups recalled dreams and nightmares. A very common nightmare is one Nielsen calls "baby in bed." The mother dreams the infant has been lost in the bed and searches through the covers. She often weeps or speaks out loud. When she awakens, she realizes the baby is not in bed but often feels driven to get up and check on the baby.

A woman in the never-pregnant group even reported this dream after going to visit her newborn nephew, Nielsen says.

While pregnant women and new moms recalled dreams and nightmares with equal prevalence, more new moms had dreams that included anxiety or the baby in danger. For instance, 75% of new moms had dreams that involved anxiety, and 73% had dreams involving the infant in danger, but 59% of pregnant women had dreams involving anxiety or their baby in danger.

Pregnant women reported nightmares about complicated labor and delivery. "One woman dreamed she had a contraction, and that the baby's foot came out, and she tried to put it back in because the baby was not yet at term," Nielsen says.

Another woman dreamed she was in a car crash a week before delivery. A woman who had never been pregnant dreamed she was holding a friend's baby and it transformed into a larva. She dreamed she stepped on it and crushed it.

New moms were more likely to report motor activity, such as moving around in the bed, but all groups were equally likely to speak during the dream or nightmare.

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