Bizarre Dreams Reflect Pregnancy Angst
Dreams About Baby in Danger Common for New Mothers, Study Shows
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."
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.