Dreams during pregnancy have been given special attention by many cultures throughout the world. For example, members of the Tlingit tribe in North America believe in reincarnation, that deceased individuals are reborn into a new body.
A French anthropologist in the 1800s noted, “It happens often that if a pregnant woman sees in a dream some relative long deceased, she will declare that this same relative has returned in her body and that she will put this person back into the world.”
Maya, mother of the Buddha, reportedly dreamed that a six-tusked white elephant ran, trumpeting loudly, into the palace. It circled her bed three times, then plunged into her womb through the right side of her rib cage.
The birth of Alexander the Great was said to have been presaged by dreams from both parents. His father, King Philip of Macedonia, dreamed of seeing an imperial seal with the figure of a lion on his wife’s abdomen.
Later, she used this dream as proof that her son was a demi-god, and that Philip was not Alexander’s actual father.
When pregnant with Augustus Caesar, Atia dreamed that her intestines were being carried up to the stars and stretched over all lands and seas. This was supposedly an indication that her child would rule a great empire.
Why Pregnancy Dreams Are Different Than Other Dreams
Patricia Maybruck’s research has convinced her that all three of these factors work together at various times during pregnancy. Hormonal upsurges during pregnancy contribute to a greater variety and intensity of emotions while the pregnant woman is awake.
This high degree of emotionality could be mirrored in the pregnant woman’s dreams, and may account for many of their vivid images and colorful narratives.
In addition, pregnant women rarely have a night of uninterrupted sleep, especially during the last trimester when the pressure of the enlarged uterus on the bladder necessitates frequent trips to the bathroom.
Furthermore, dream research has repeatedly demonstrated that most dreams tend to reflect the dreamer’s concerns and experiences during waking life. Pregnancy is a time of change and transition, hence differences in dream content would be expected.
These changes may also affect expectant fathers. Their dreams often reflect such concerns as: Will I be displaced in my wife’s affections? Will my wife and baby be physically healthy? Can I support my child financially? Can I nurture my child emotionally?
By recognizing and discussing the possible implications of their own personal dream themes, expectant mothers and fathers can enrich the transitions they are both experiencing.
Many psychotherapists and obstetricians are beginning to encourage expectant parents to discuss their dreams. Their concerns about health, delivery, and childrearing can be acknowledged and confronted.
Once dreamers face these fears directly, they report fewer nightmares and a greater sense of well-being. A discussion of dreams can accompany classes in natural childbirth as well as programs in prenatal care. Such discussions can reduce or eliminate the need for drugs to reduce tension and anxiety during pregnancy and enable the expectant mother and father to await the birth of their child with greater joy and with less apprehension. Pregnancy dreams are one area in which dream reports can be put to practical use.
Research on Pregnancy Dreams
Freud noted that the seal-like creature resembled the dreamer’s younger brother, to whom she had always been like a mother. He also conjectured that the subterranean channel and the water symbolized the birth canal and the amniotic fluid.
Changes in Dream Imagery during Pregnancy
Each trimester of pregnancy is accompanied by different physical changes, both in the fetus and in the mother’s body; these changes can be reflected in dream reports if the pregnant woman or expectant father keeps a dream notebook.
During the first trimester, dreams about obstetricians and the dreamer’s body image are common for some expectant parents, especially during the first pregnancy.
One woman had a Japanese obstetrician; she dreamed that when he arrived to deliver the baby, he was dressed in a traditional Japanese robe.
Once in a while, these dreams may contain romantic fantasies on the part of the woman and references to jealousy on the part of her husband or partner. This is not unusual, because the obstetrician examines the most intimate parts of a woman’s body.
One woman dreamed that her obstetrician told her that he loved her. An expectant father dreamed that he caught the obstetrician and his wife in bed together. But at other times, the dreamer will reveal her changing body image; one woman dreamed she was carrying a spare tire around her waist.
Dreams during the first pregnancy may contain fertility symbols. These dream images may be flowering gardens containing fruits and vegetables. One woman dreamed of a bowl filled with papaya and mangoes. Cuddly animals, birds, and fish might begin to appear in pregnancy dreams at this point.
One woman dreamed, “I am holding a white rabbit under my arm, and I am stroking it.” Another woman dreamed, “I have two little swans, and I know they will swim into the sunlight and become human babies.” Architecture may appear, especially rooms, tunnels, and other features symbolizing the uterus and the birth canal.
If a pregnant woman decides to have an abortion, she might dream about that process at this point. Abortion dreams often contain hospital scenes and medical instruments. If a woman or her partner is considering abortion, their dreams may contain metaphors for feeling trapped, being overburdened, or looking frantically for a solution to a problem.
During the second semester, personal myths about one’s adequacy as a future parent may appear in one’s dreams.
Sometimes, these take the form of unresolved issues with the dreamer’s own mother. In addition, babies appear more often, replacing small animals for many pregnant dreamers.
Symbols for the pregnant woman’s body may be more pronounced than during the first trimester, and appear in the form of houses, boats, cars, and trucks. There also may be dreams about fertility—gardens, flowers, and fruits.
Maybruck’s study revealed that expectant parents’ dreams were correct half the time and incorrect half the time, exactly what one would expect by chance.
During this final trimester, the personal myths concerning the changes in the couple’s relationship can also be detected in dreams of both expectant mothers and expectant fathers.
The content of these dreams may reflect on how the relationship will change once the baby is born.