When I was pregnant, I had a recurring dream that I gave birth at work while my colleagues carried on typing away at their computers around me.
One mom-to-be told me she dreamt her breast milk came out black. Another had a dream that she gave birth to a tiny plastic doll.
Why do we experience strange and vivid dreams during pregnancy and what do these dreams mean?
What does it mean if you dream about pregnancy and childbirth when you aren’t pregnant or never have been? Spoiler Alert: It doesn’t necessarily hint at your desire for a baby, consciously or unconsciously.
It’s worth noting that dreams are, by the very fact that they appear inside one’s mind, subjective and problematic to accurately interpret. They are unique to the dreamer and therefore very difficult to describe to someone else.
Therefore much of the interpretations in this article should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Despite the fact that dreams are notoriously difficult to decipher, I tracked down dream experts and psychologists to dig beyond the surface and help us try and interpret what all these crazy dreams might mean.
Why Pregnancy Causes More Intense And Vivid Dreams
It is a well-known fact that pregnant women do not sleep well.
A fact that is all the more tedious for moms-to-be who keep being told by complete strangers with a quick glance at the bump and a knowing smile to “sleep while you can.” Not helpful.
Pregnant women find it difficult to sleep for a number of reasons, including general physical discomfort, nausea, increased appetite, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, increased body temperature, frequent need to use the bathroom, a surge in hormones and an overall feeling of stress and anxiety.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
And all of these factors contribute to the bizarre and vivid dreams that many pregnant women experience.
They can be broken down into two specific categories: disrupted sleep and a strong cocktail of hormones.
How Disrupted Sleep Can Cause More Memorable Dreams During Pregnancy
Pregnant women wake up often during the night (did I mention that it’s hard to sleep when you’re pregnant?).
In fact, according to a survey by the National Sleep Foundation, 78% of women reported more disturbed sleep during pregnancy.
Waking more often means that you are more likely to remember your dreams because of the different stages of the sleep cycle.
There are five stages of sleep that we go through each night.
The final stage of sleep is called REM sleep (rapid eye movement).
Normally you enter REM sleep about 90 minutes after falling asleep and each REM cycle lasts up to an hour. In an average night’s sleep, we experience around five cycles.
During REM sleep your brain starts to become active, your heart rate increases, your eyes jerk, and your breathing become irregular.
This is also the stage of sleep when you dream.
So if you wake up during REM sleep (as pregnant women often do), we’ll remember and reflect on what we have just dreamt about.
During an undisturbed night’s sleep, we don’t tend to wake between these cycles of sleep and subsequently don’t have a chance to remember what we’re dreaming of.
We normally only wake up after the last REM cycle of the night, which is why we often remember our dreams in the morning as they are fresh in our mind.
But for pregnant women who are up all night, this sleep disruption gives the impression that they are having an increased number of dreams that are more vivid and memorable.
Additionally, the fact that pregnant women are uncomfortable and anxious can lead to lighter sleep in general.
This means they experience more disruption to REM sleep in one night than someone who’s natural sleep pattern is not disturbed by frequent waking.
Therefore pregnant women do potentially ‘dream more’ than normal.
Why An Increase In Hormones During Pregnancy Can Cause Strange Dreams
The main reason for some potentially weird dreams during pregnancy is as a result of the surge of hormones that flood women’s bodies after conception.
A woman produces more estrogen during one pregnancy than throughout her entire life when not pregnant.
These hormones wreak havoc on a pregnant woman’s brain and impact everything from how food smells and tastes to how she reacts emotionally.
Hormones are responsible for those infamous pregnancy mood swings.
This is because significant changes in your hormone levels have an impact on your level of neurotransmitters in your brain which are responsible for regulating your mood.
In the words of Dr. Michael Lennox, author of “Dream Sight: A Dictionary & Guide for Interpreting Any Dream”, “Everything that happens inside the brain is driven by chemicals and when you’re pregnant those chemicals go nuts.”
These chemicals distort the way pregnant women process information which contributes to the disturbing nature of their dreams.
Women also experience a rise in cortisol (the stress hormone) during pregnancy and cortisol does weird things to your dreams.
According to a 2004 study into the effect of cortisol on sleep, dreams and memory consolidation, increased levels of the stress hormone causes something called fragmentation to occur in the brain which leads to ‘bizarre reconstructions’ in dreams.
So although the phrase “blame it on my hormones” is something of a mantra for pregnant women, in the case of weird dreams, it’s legitimate.
Defining Weird Pregnancy Dreams
When I say weird, I mean weird.
One mom-to-be told me she regularly dreams about riding on huge birds of prey. Another mom said when she was pregnant she dreamt she was a dolphin.
Not only are dreams during pregnancy strange, but sometimes they’re pretty frightening.
Nightmares are common due to the increase in hormones but also because of raised levels of stress and anxiety that many women experience during pregnancy.
When we are anxious, our dreams tend to reflect our fears and concerns.
One expectant mother told me she dreamt she was being attacked by huge spiders, which she thinks hinted at feeling overwhelmed by the imminent changes in her life.
Another mom reported dreaming that she was being chased through Bergdorf Goodman (a clothing store) by a machete-wielding maniac in a Scream mask. Terrifying.
Although these dreams sound insane and disturbing, there is often a common thread and an explanation for many of the dreams that pregnant women describe.
For example, when a pregnant woman goes full ‘Inception’ and dreams about her pregnancy during her pregnancy, this is a sign that she is concerned about the well being of the baby.
Dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg explains in the following sections why pregnant women dream what they dream and how the subject matter changes throughout the pregnancy to reflect the changes in the woman’s body and mentality.
Lauri is a member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams and has over 20 years of experience. She believes she has analyzed over 75,000 dreams.
Pregnancy Dreams During The First Trimester
According to Lauri, during the first trimester of pregnancy, many women report dreaming of fish and tadpoles.
This reflects the state of the embryo which is not yet a fetus. The embryo becomes a fetus at around ten weeks.
Dreams about your mother are also common as you prepare to become a mother yourself.
Lauri told me: “Usually she is a helpful character in your dreams but if you are having a difficult pregnancy she can appear as a more menacing character.”
Many women dream about miscarriage during the first trimester which is an expression of fear of this happening as it is more common during the first trimester.
Lauri stresses that dreaming about miscarriage is not a premonition that it is going to happen.
According to psychologist and co-founder of The International Association for the Study of Dreams, and author of the bestselling book “Creative Dreaming”, Dr. Patricia Garfield says that images of water and pools also crop up in the first trimester.
She writes in her article “Pregnancy and Childbirth Dreams”:
“From goldfish bowls to swelling oceans, the pregnant woman’s dreams refer to water throughout her pregnancy. The mother-to-be will often find herself swimming in her first-trimester dreams.
Where animals appear in a pregnant woman’s first trimester dreams, they are often aquatic creatures, such as tadpoles and fish. This water in her dreams possibly depicts the pregnant woman’s awareness of the water gathering within her womb.”
This fits with new mom Renee’s experience who said she regularly dreamt about floating in a body of water when she was first pregnant.
Pregnancy Dreams During The Second Trimester
During the second trimester, many women dream about giving birth to kittens, puppies or even dolls.
Psychologist Dr. Veronica Tonay, author of “Every Dream Interpreted” explains that dreams of animals often possess human qualities.
In this article, she says: “In the first trimester, you may dream about bunnies and talking rabbits. These images are friendly and make us feel safe.”
According to Dr. Garfield: “Kittens, puppies, and chicks are some of the animals that typically wander through the dreams of pregnant women. These creatures probably represent the fetus within the woman’s womb.”
Lauri explained to me that this is because we associate these creatures with our first child-rearing experience. “The subconscious will equate our own impending labor and delivery to that very first experience.”
This fits with many of the dreams described by moms and moms-to-be that I spoke to.
Francesca, who is due with her first baby in a few months, dreamt that she was covered in kittens.
And Jane said: “I dreamt I gave birth to a really cute puppy. And then had to figure out how to breastfeed a dog!”
Eleanor, also expecting her first baby in a couple of months, dreamt that she gave birth to a rag doll.
Another theme is having a see-through belly and being able to look at your baby.
According to Lauri, these types of dreams are often triggered after a pregnant woman has her first ultrasound when you can see your baby moving inside you. It reflects a strong desire to meet your baby.
Martha, mom of two, said: “While pregnant, I used to dream that I could unzip my belly from the belly button down, see the baby and then zip back up.”
Women in their second trimester also have a lot of sex dreams.
This is because moms-to-be tend to be most sexually aroused at this point of their pregnancy due to increased blood flow to the breasts and vulva.
Pregnancy Dreams During The Third Trimester
In the final stage of pregnancy, Lauri explains that dreams tend to be more focused on the baby which reflects the mom’s anticipation to meet the baby and the impending birth.
Another common subject of dreams in the third trimester is, according to Lauri, cows, elephants, and other large animals.
Lauri says: “Mom-to-be has a much larger body at this point than she is used to and quite frankly, feels like a hippo. So naturally, large creatures will inhabit her dreams. But cows are particularly common because the breasts are really gearing up for milk production.”
As you approach the end of your pregnancy, many women dream about forgetting the baby or a general feeling of being unprepared. This is particularly common for first-time moms who are entering the unknown.
Holly, whose little boy is now two, said she regularly dreamt when she was pregnant that she was going skiing but didn’t have a jacket or any equipment.
Lauri explains: “Dreams can often serve as a ‘dress rehearsal’, putting us in our worst-case scenario so we can figure them out in our heads. Forgetting- the-baby dreams are a dress rehearsal for what will be the biggest responsibility of your life.”
Mom of one Annette said: “I had a dream that I lost the baby in our apartment. When I found it, it was 11 years old and I actually had three kids living in a hidden part of the apartment!”
And finally, and most disturbing — death.
Dreams about death can be troubling but they are actually symbolic of something changing.
They are common in pregnancy and especially during the third trimester because the mom-to-be’s world is about to change dramatically.
Lauri explains that a dream about death can represent a woman letting go of her old life and getting ready for her new role as a mom.
Francesca said she had a vivid (and horrifying) dream about a group of people being hanged.
When she researched what it meant she found out: “To see a person being hanged represents a major change in your life. This dream doesn’t necessarily signal a bad change, just a big one. A change that turns your life upside down.”
Sounds about right to me!
What Does It Mean If You Dream About Pregnancy Or Being Pregnant When You’re Not?
So what if you dream about being pregnant or pregnancy when you are not pregnant and never have been?
Dream expert Dr. Lennox explained to me that dreaming about being pregnant or a pregnant woman showing up in your dreams is very common.
These dreams often reflect some sort of process, project or possibility that takes time and needs nurturing.
“It is a very common dream that people have when they are working on something new, going in a new direction or embracing change,” he told me.
He adds that someone might not yet be aware of what is happening in their lives that has sparked this dream and can, therefore, find it very alarming.
He encourages the dreamer to “consider what is creatively beginning, what is gestating.”
If there is nothing obvious that springs to mind, it could be that you need a new project or challenge, you just don’t know it yet!
However, according to Dr. Lennox, dreams about pregnancy can have other meanings such as issues with sexuality, unfulfilled desires, and subconscious fears.
A dream about getting pregnant and worrying about the way it could change your life could indicate that you’re stressed about something.
Dr. Lennox emphasizes that it is important to analyze how the dream made you feel.
If you felt happy afterward, maybe it is time to welcome changes to your life. If you felt confused or frightened, this dream could suggest you don’t feel in control of your situation.
So although dreams about pregnancy do not always reflect a subconscious desire to become pregnant, sometimes they do!
Psychoanalyst Dr. Tina Goodin explained to me how a dream about pregnancy can reflect a woman’s wish to be pregnant.
I asked her what it means if a woman, who did not previously have any desire for a baby, dreams that she is happily pregnant.
She said: “That’s the cool thing about the unconscious. Dreams can reveal a desire for something you never knew you wanted.”
Dr. Lennox explains how dreams about pregnancy can be taken literally:
“Sometimes there can be literal connections to pregnancy and conception and the images that dreamers ‘see’ reflect a desire to be literally pregnant.
The dreamer has to ask themselves, is this dream reflecting a biological drive to have a child? Or is it just symbolic of change and a new beginning? I can’t answer that for them.”
So there you have it. It’s up to you to decide what a dream about pregnancy meant to you. Do you take it literally or symbolically?
What Do Dreams About Childbirth Mean?
Dreams about physically giving birth or seeing someone give birth can be particularly alarming.
Dr. Lennox explains that there is a stark difference between a dream about pregnancy and a dream about birth: “A pregnancy dream is about possibility, an idea being formed. A childbirth dream is about change happening right now.”
He adds that perhaps that change is painful and difficult to begin: “For example, someone trying to give up smoking might have a dream about childbirth because that is something physically hard to go through — to birth a non-smoking version of yourself.”
“Birth, as opposed to pregnancy, in a dream indicates that all your hard work is coming to fruition; whatever it is you have been working on is now emerging.
The dreaming mind is showing it to you in the form of a baby so you will recognize its value and continue to nurture and focus on this new element in your life so you and it can reach full potential.”
But if you dream that you’re ‘birthing’ something unpleasant or scary, it could mean that you are worried about whatever it is that you are working on or planning and how it will turn out.
A dream about birth could be linked to a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Women’s Health Interactive’s very own Editor-In-Chief Ashlee Tilford explains that she often dreams about birth in the few days before her period.
“I believe there is some slight cramping happening during my sleep that is causing me to dream about birth.”
I asked Lauri if this something she has come across before.
She said: “My bet is that it is her subconscious building a storyline around her cramps. Dreams will do that when we are experiencing physical sensations while in REM. For example, if you are having a headache while sleeping, you may dream of receiving a blow to the head.”
Do All Dreams — Pregnancy or Otherwise — Mean Something?
Dreams, although often strange and even nonsensical do (more often than not) reflect what is going on somewhere in our subconscious.
Dr. Tina Goodin explained to me that while regularly confusing, all dreams do mean something on some level.
Sometimes it’s obvious.
If you dream about failing an exam, you’re probably feeling unprepared about something about to happen in your life.
Sometimes a dream will need a little more analysis to figure out what it means.
Dr. Goodin says: “A dream is a way for our brain to deliver us information. It is unconscious thought, left over from that day’s residue (and all the days before it) that we are trying to analyze. All dreams have meaning.”
But it’s up to us if we want to explore what they might mean.
Dr. Goodin explains that deciphering particularly bizarre dreams takes expert analysis because the meaning can be very hard to work out.
She told me: “The meaning of a dream comes about through analysis. It’s not easy. You need to put it all together to come up with an interpretation. A dream is a metaphor for something that is hidden somewhere in our unconscious.”
Do Men Dream About Childbirth And Pregnancy?
So what about men?
If it’s unsettling for a woman who isn’t pregnant to dream about pregnancy and childbirth, it must be especially odd for a man.
I asked my husband if he ever dreamt about childbirth or pregnancy. He answered: “No. Never.”
“Not even when I was heavily pregnant with our son?”
So it was just me that was having recurring dreams about giving birth in public. Great!
But according to some other men I have spoken to, many have had dreams about pregnancy. Not necessarily that they themselves are pregnant, but they have dreamt of a pregnant woman.
Nick, who does not have children, remembers a dream in which he helped an unknown pregnant woman get to the hospital to give birth. He recalls that at the time, he was thinking about quitting his job.
There is no distinction between what a dream about pregnancy or childbirth means when a woman dreams about it as opposed to when a man dreams about it.
Dr. Lennox believes that when a man dreams about pregnancy it can be interpreted as reflecting his desire to become a father, in the same way that it can reflect a woman’s desire to be a mother if she dreams about pregnancy.
Although, he stresses that it’s only possible to come to that conclusion “if the dreamer had some conscious awareness of such a desire.”
Dr. Lennox said he had a vivid dream of being pregnant when his sister was expecting her first child.
He said: “I think it may absolutely have been reflecting my own desires to be a father.”
However, Dr. Lennox explains that it is more likely for a woman to have these type of dreams, simply because it is biologically possible for her to get pregnant and give birth and is, therefore, more prevalent in her consciousness.
Another strange phenomenon around pregnancy and dreams is when a man starts to ‘take on’ some of the intensity of his pregnant partner’s dreams.
Dr. Lennox has met couples who experienced this scenario. He said:
“It’s not uncommon for the partner of a pregnant woman to join in with the dreaming intensity. The chemical and spiritual energy of two people sharing a committed marital relationship can sync.
They link up in a way that they’re not consciously aware of, but it can affect their dream content. The mind is a powerful thing.”
Clearly not so in mine and my husband’s case!
Interestingly, according to Dr. Alan Siegel, Associate Clinical Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of California, Berkeley — who has conducted research on expectant father’s dreams during the first few months of their partner’s pregnancy — men are more likely to have sexual dreams.
Dr. Siegel believes the protective feelings a man might develop towards his partner and their child could be a threat to his masculinity.
The sexual dreams might be the brain’s way of telling him to be more ‘masculine’.
Dr. Siegel also found that one of the most common themes in expectant father’s dreams is the theme of feeling left out or deprived. He believes this indicates men’s fears about being replaced by the new arrival.
So men’s dreams can alter when their partner is pregnant to reflect their concerns about the imminent changes in both of their lives.
And dreams about pregnancy and parenthood at any stage of life for men and women are caused by the fact that these are unavoidable archetypes of our society.
Images of pregnancy are bound to crop up in our dreams every now and then, in the same way that we dream about everyday things around us.
So if you’re currently pregnant and are freaking out about your bizarre nightly visions, don’t panic.
Firstly, you are not alone. It is very common for pregnant women to experience strange dreams due to disturbed sleep and a surge of hormones.
Secondly, these dreams don’t mean that you’re going to have a miscarriage, leave the baby in Walmart or give birth to a puppy. They are simply your brain processing this huge change in your life.
And if you’re dreaming about pregnancy when you’re not pregnant, analyze what is going on in your life that may have sparked this dream and consider how the dream made you feel.
Did you enjoy being pregnant in the dream? Did you wake up feeling disappointed that you’re not actually pregnant?
This could be an indication that your biological clock is starting to tick and being pregnant is something you might actually want.
Or did you wake up thinking, thank God that was just a dream! In which case, the dream might reflect something in your life that needs nurturing like a project or a relationship.
Either way, don’t go checking yourself into a psychiatric facility just yet — strange dreams are just a part of life.
If you feel like analyzing them, go ahead!
If you’d rather not know what that freaky dream about your mother-in-law meant, leave it in the ‘that was a weird dream!’ camp and move on.
And remember, according to Carl Jung, the grandfather of analytical psychology:
“Dreams are as simple or as complicated as the dreamer is himself, only they are always a little bit ahead of the dreamer’s consciousness.”
Are you pregnant and experiencing crazy dreams? What are some of the things you have dreamt about?
Or perhaps you aren’t pregnant and don’t want to be but still find yourself dreaming about pregnancy and childbirth.
We want to hear from you!
Tell us about your experience by clicking on the “Discuss” link/button that appears at the end of this article.