Though we like to think of sleep as a time for the mind to relax, it often does the opposite. During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, our brains are fully active inducing dreams and, unfortunately, nightmares.
If you’ve ever had an anxiety dream where your teeth are falling out, or you’re naked in public, you can thank your brain for working overtime during REM sleep to process your emotions. This can look like a disturbingly vivid dream that leaves you questioning reality when you wake up.
One such anxious dream is the pregnancy dream, which can include anything from dreaming of a positive pregnancy test to giving birth. While these dreams are alarming and can leave you rattled, ultimately, you’re left with one pressing question: “Is this a sign that I’m actually pregnant?”
When Dreams Feel Like Reality
Before we can unpack the details of your pregnancy dream, it’s important to understand why we have such vivid dreams. The average human spends over one-third of their life sleeping, and they dream for much of that time. However, we don’t remember all of the dreams that we experience. Discover spoke to Courtney Bolstad, a doctoral candidate in the clinical psychology program at Mississippi State, to find out why some dreams are just more memorable than others. According to Bolstad, to remember a dream, you would need to suddenly wake up from REM sleep and stay awake for at least a few minutes. This gives your brain time to recall and process the dream.
The underlying reasons that cause an anxiety dream are a bit more complex. During REM sleep, when many of our dreams are taking place, the amygdala — the part of our brain that processes emotions — and the hippocampus — where memories are stored — are very active. While these brain regions are busy constructing dreams, the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of our brain that tries to make sense of the world around us, is inactive.
“Because the prefrontal cortex is offline while we sleep, it does a poor job of piecing a story together,” says Bolstad. This explains why we get weird or strange dreams, such as pregnancy dreams, that might not always make sense.
“Dreams are funny because you can interpret them in so many different ways,” says dream expert and psychotherapist Veronica Tonay. “But in reality, they do tend to reflect our conceptions of ourselves and other people and the world around us.”
The good news is that your pregnancy dream has multiple meanings and is not necessarily an indicator that you’re actually pregnant. In fact, pregnancy dreams are quite common regardless of one’s gender or pregnancy status. Tonay says many factors are at play when a client experiences a pregnancy dream. “In an overt level, the dream reflects what’s going on in the world and in your physical being,” she says. “Then there’s also what’s going on inside your psyche and yourself.”
Deciphering Your Pregnancy Dream
Sigmund Freud was the first to draw the parallel between dreams and the unconscious mind. Freud believed dreams reflected one’s unconscious desires, thoughts, and motivations. The same parallel exists for anxiety dreams, which can symbolize important life changes and stressors. A pregnancy dream mimics pregnancy because it represents the creation of something new in your life. This could be the start of a new project, a new relationship, or even a big move.
Research shows common pregnancy dreams can range from finding out you’re pregnant to giving birth or even experiencing morning sickness. Here are some common dreams of being pregnant and what they might represent:
A positive pregnancy test can explore hopes and fears. Your subconscious may be preparing you to take on a big responsibility or a new venture that could be ‘positive’ or ‘negative,’ as Lauri Loewenberg, a professional dream analyst, tells Cosmopolitan.
Morning sickness dreams can represent emotional instability regarding something in your life that is growing. However, Bolstad assures us that there is no need to be alarmed. “Anxiety dreams are actually very normal and are just trying to help us process an underlying emotion or stress while we sleep,” she says.
Dreams of having twins doesn’t have to mean that you’re expecting two babies. If you feel like you’re juggling a lot of things in your life, your subconscious could be trying to indicate this in the form of multiple fetuses. Tonay suggests that a dream of having twins could also represent two sides of your own self, often known as your own self and your shadow side. The shadow side is the parts of ourselves, like personality traits, emotions and thoughts, that are difficult to accept.
Giving birth in a dream typically symbolizes the creation of something new. Rather than its literal meaning, this dream could express emotions about the development of anything new in your life.
But what happens if you experience a pregnancy dream while you are pregnant in real life? Turns out there may be a biological reason for this. When you’re pregnant, your hormones fluctuate, and progesterone levels increase, which can cause vivid dreams.
Tonay explains that a pregnancy dream during pregnancy is typically a reflection of changes in your body, the trimester that you are in, and general anxiety surrounding the pregnancy. On the flip side, if you’ve recently experienced a pregnancy loss, your psyche may still be processing, and, therefore, grief might arise in unexpected ways, such as a pregnancy dream.
“In any dream, you’re mostly dreaming about yourself, your own feelings, and your own life, and the characters in your dreams are perceptions of the people that exist,” Tonay says. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all explanation for every dream we experience, we can take comfort in the fact that unsettling dreams are universal.