When Sigmund Freud said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” it’s a good bet he wasn’t referring to the dreams of a pregnant woman—which are anything but straightforward.
While anyone can see how pregnancy affects a woman’s body, not so obvious but equally impressive are the changes pregnancy wreaks with a woman’s mind. It’s one thing to be pregnant and feel big as a cow, and quite another to have a recurring dream that you are a cow.
Welcome to the world of pregnancy, where the mind expands in direct parallel with the body. “Pregnancy dreams are nature’s way of assisting the woman through the process of transformation from woman to mother,” writes Raina M. Paris, author of The Mother-to-Be’s Dream Book.
And there’s no discounting the importance of those dreams.
Dr. Nadia Bruschweiler-Stern, MD, a physician at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, has found that the “mental pregnancy” a mother experiences is just as profound as the physical one. It is during the mental pregnancy that a woman prepares herself for motherhood and begins developing an image of her unborn baby. Dreams are an important part of this critical integration process, allowing the mind to make space for the child, which may explain why a pregnant woman’s dreams can be so bizarre. (Be sure to check out our A-Z dream guide for deciphering your pregnancy dreams.)
According to Paris, a pregnant woman’s dreams tend to change with each trimester and often follow a predictable pattern that reflects the pregnancy’s progression.
First Trimester Dreams
Early pregnancy dreams often revolve around the pregnant woman’s past. Childhood homes and old lovers often figure prominently. These dreams are a way to clear up any unresolved issues. Standard themes during this time are dreams of vulnerability, often symbolized through nakedness, and dreams with a protective and territorial quality.
Second Trimester Dreams
The middle of pregnancy is when the woman begins to get a sense of the baby as a real person, and the bonding process between mother and child begins in earnest. Both water and animal themes figure prominently in second trimester dreams. For example, the woman may dream she is a whale or dolphin in the ocean, swimming alongside her child.
The second trimester is also prime time for anxiety dreams, reflecting a woman’s concerns as to whether or not she’ll be a good mother. These dreams often involve leaving the baby somewhere or having a baby born deformed or severely undersized.
Charles McPhee, who runs DreamDoctor.com (a website devoted to uncovering the meaning of dreams), emphasizes that such “maternal instinct” dreams are not premonitions of a woman’s parenting abilities. “These dreams simply reflect that you are a caring mother,” says McPhee. “You are so dedicated to your children that you are worrying about them even in your sleep!”
Third Trimester Dreams
Nature is a common theme in third-trimester dreams, and the imagery can be quite powerful—volcanoes erupt, dams burst, and tidal waves roll. Such dreams represent the impending birth and act as a dress rehearsal for the labor and delivery. Many women actually dream of the entire birthing process. And it is not uncommon for movie stars to suddenly appear in dreams during this time, a reflection of the starring role the woman is playing in her own life.
Regardless of the specific nature of the dreams, increased dream activity during pregnancy is normal. Obstetrician Dr. Gerard DiLeo, MD, explains that dreams act as a clearinghouse to help expectant mothers come to terms with both the physical and emotional transformation they are experiencing. “For first-time mothers especially, the bizarre dreams are a very real acknowledgement of the emotional investment of a pregnancy,” says Dr. DiLeo. “This responsibility can weigh a bit heavy. I explain to my pregnant patients that strange, anxiety-producing dreams are simply the psyche’s way of processing all that the conscious mind is already rationalizing.”
So whether you are in your first trimester and dreaming of being naked in your kindergarten classroom or are in your third trimester and dreaming of giving birth in a barrel while shooting the rapids of Niagara Falls, know you are in good company. And by all means, dream on. Your bizarre dreams just may make you a better parent—or at least a better-prepared one.
A Quick Primer on Dream Analysis
A good rule of thumb when analyzing your dreams: Trust your first instinct; it’s usually right. And take a light-hearted approach. Think of the process as playing with your dream, rather than analyzing it. Hold the dream in your hand, smush it around a bit, and toss it up in the air. Here are a few tried-and-true methods that should yield results:
Try a word association. Write down a word or a few words that describe or symbolize your dream. Without allowing yourself to think too much, quickly add any and all additional words that come to mind.
For example, if your descriptive words are: “whale,” “ocean,” and “movement,” you may wind up adding such words as “sea,” “salt,” “algae,” “cold,” “warm,” “fluid,” “motion,” “sailboat,” or whatever else comes to mind. The words don’t need to make sense, necessarily. You may find yourself writing down the words “taco,” and “troubadour.” Don’t edit yourself in this or any other exercise. It is the ridiculous words, those words that seem most out of context, that may shed some light on the meaning of your dream.
Seek to identify the emotions behind the images. Often dreams raise issues that we’d rather not confront. Alas, the subconscious does not lie. Allow yourself to acknowledge the emotions conveyed in your dreams.
Write down descriptive words, such as “joy,” “anxiety,” “concern,” or “ambivalence.” Keep the paper with you for the day as a reminder to try and connect your dream emotions to your waking ones. Often, it is this waking connection that yields insight.
View your dream through a wide-angle lens. It is believed that we play the role of all the characters in our dreams. If you dream of being chased by a bank robber, for example, you are the bank robber as well as the person being chased. Scary? The truth is we all have many sides to our personalities. You’re analyzing your dream, remember, not judging it. Allow yourself to experience the emotions of all the characters and you may be surprised by what you discover.
Pregnancy is both exhilarating and daunting. Your subconscious mind is no doubt sorting through both the good and the bad throughout these eventful nine months. Keep a journal of the poignant, wild, and down right wacky dreams you’re experiencing, then compare notes with our dream guide. It will be fun to look back at your pregnancy dream journal as your child grows.