When Traci Miller was pregnant, the 32-year-old commercial property manager from Mountville, Pa., dreamed that she drove away with her baby still in the car seat on top of her car. Although it was disturbing to Miller, “forgetting-the-baby” dreams are fairly common among women who are expecting, says Alan Siegel, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Dream Wisdom (Celestial Arts).
“Many women interpret this as meaning they will be bad mothers,” he says, “but this isn’t the case at all. During times of transition, or when our identity is changing, such as during pregnancy, dreams often become more vivid. Women often have more nightmares as well. Dreams have the ability to mitigate the stress of life transitions by helping us understand some of our anxieties.”
Around 70 percent of women say they have frequent pregnancy-related dreams, according to some studies, says Pamela Wiegartz, Ph.D., director of cognitive behavioral therapy services and training at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “And anecdotally, that number may be even higher,” she says. “In addition to the emotional influence that pregnancy has on dreams, there is speculation that increased progesterone may also play a role,” Wiegartz adds. “Plus, anxiety paired with the disruption of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep during pregnancy may account for the perceived increase, frequency and intensity of dreams.”
Dreams are highly variable, but they seem to fall into distinctive categories for pregnant women. Here are some of the most common:
Forgetting-the-baby dreams: “These dreams represent anxiety over the demands of being a mother or worries about parenting competence,” says Wiegartz.
Furry animal dreams: “Dreams turn things into metaphors,” Siegel says. “Women who dream about giving birth to a furry animal might see it as a bad omen, but this represents the relationship you’re forming with your baby—prenatal bonding.”
Wunderkind dreams: “The newborn can suddenly play basketball or recite poetry,” explains Siegel. Some experts suggest that these dreams are a way for a pregnant woman to skip over the baby’s birth—which she might fear—and get to know her child later in her life.
Being trapped and helpless, falling or losing freedom: Nightmarish dreams such as these are not only common, they can be helpful, asserts Siegel. According to a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, women whose dreams contained threats and hostility had shorter labors and fewer complications. “This shows that women who are less in denial are more able to let go, literally,” Siegel says.
Very disturbed by nightmares? “Write down an alternate ending in a journal, draw it in a picture or talk to someone about it,” suggests psychology professor Alan Siegel, Ph.D. “If you lose the baby in a dream, look for and find him in the fantasy. This often helps you change the course of a dream. You can break its spell.” If this or other measures like talking about your dreams fail, you may need to see a therapist.