During pregnancy and often after giving birth, women commonly experience anxious dreams of their new infants being in danger.
The intense physical, hormonal and emotional changes surrounding pregnancy and childbirth likely play a role in infant-related dreams and associated behaviour in new mothers and moms-to-be. Such dreams appear to be common reactions to the potentially overwhelming situation of new motherhood, in particular to the combination of chronically disrupted sleep and the intense pressures of maternal responsibility. In one particular type of dream, it so happens that the mother acts out a dream of looking frantically for her lost infant in the bed, groping through the sheets, sometimes waking up the husband, and sometimes crying out in alarm to 'watch out the baby is lost in the bed somewhere.' The vividness of this so-called baby-in-bed dream often reaches hallucinatory proportions.
To assess the sleep patterns of pregnant women, researchers at the Sleep Research Centre at the Sacre-Coeur Hospital in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, analysed dream-associated behaviour in 202 women who had recently given birth, 50 pregnant women, and 21 control women who were not pregnant and had never given birth.
The results showed that pregnant women and those who had recently given birth were equally likely to recall infant dreams and nightmares, but more women with newborns reported that their dreams were riddled with anxiety (75 percent) and with visions of their infant in trouble (73 percent) than did pregnant women (59 percent and 42 percent, respectively). As compared to women who were yet to deliver, women after delivery reported dream enacting behaviour like moving about in the bed, speaking, expressing emotions.
The occurrence of pregnancy and postpartum infant dreams and associated behaviour may reflect the pervasive emotional influence of maternal concerns or changes instigated by severe sleep disruption, lack of deep sleep characterised by rapid eye movements and altered hormone levels.