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While you might enjoy taking some dreams literally—like that recurring one where you’re dating Harry Styles—most dreams aren’t symbolic of anything happening in your real life. And that’s a good thing, given how many of us dream about our teeth falling out, or not finishing high school, or showing up naked to class.
But realistic dreams can still be freaky AF. And that’s especially true if you’re dreaming about being pregnant, which, hello, methotrexate and gastritis is a big freaking deal, whether you’re looking to conceive or are trying not to. Waking up in the morning after seeing scenes of you with a giant belly, or strapped to the stirrups, or pushing a small child out of your body can certainly make you feel some type of way, whether that’s hopeful or anxious.
The thing is, pregnancy dreams aren’t a sure-fire sign that you are pregnant. While you definitely could be if you’re sexually active, dreams typically aren’t prophetic. Here’s why you might be having pregnancy dreams lately, and what they could mean about what’s going on in your life, according to experts.
1. You’re really hoping to get pregnant soon.
For some people, pregnancy dreams are connected to the fact that the person is thinking a lot about having a baby in the near future, says Rafael Pelayo, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine.
That’s probably not surprising: If someone desperately wants to be pregnant, dreams about pregnancy are their desires playing out in their dream world. Of course, it’s not likely that pregnancy dreams will freak you out if you’re actually trying to get pregnant, but they can make you feel discouraged or down if it’s not happening outside of your dreams.
2. You have a fear of getting pregnant right now.
The more confusing scenario is when you dream that you’re carrying a child (or that you take a positive pregnancy test, perhaps) but you’re 100 percent not ready to think about babies and have never carried a baby. Or, maybe you’ve already had kids and you definitely don’t want more. In these cases, dreading a pregnancy or having anxiety about it might still mean the topic is on your mind in some capacity, so you may imagine it in your sleep (and it might feel more like a nightmare).
3. Something in your life triggered a memory of a past pregnancy.
These dreams may also be related to random memories about a past pregnancy of your own or someone else’s, Dr. Pelayo says. If you’re dreaming about being pregnant and previously were at some point in your life, there’s a good chance that something in your day briefly reminded you of that. Say that you had bad morning sickness during your first pregnancy: Any time that you feel a little nauseated during the day is a chance for your brain to remember that morning sickness and give you a dream about being pregnant.
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A similar thing could happen if you eat one of the foods you once craved when you were pregnant, especially if it’s not something you typically eat (pickles and peanut butter, anyone?) Another example: You see someone with a baby, and even though you’re post-menopausal, that visual triggers your brain to remember your own pregnancy while you’re asleep.
So it’s up to you to sleuth out your true feelings once you wake up. Was this dream a sign from your subconscious that you’re either ready for kids or terrified that you’ll accidentally get pregnant, or was it just your brain dredging up some old memory?
4. You’re “giving birth” in another way, like to a big project you’ve been working on.
Dreams about being pregnant might be about a different kind of birth, so to speak. “Pregnancy can be a metaphor for other kinds of creativity,” says Deirdre Barrett, PhD, a psychologist and author of The Committee of Sleep. Pregnancy dreams may represent your excitement around a creative project in your home or at work, she says. You’re “giving birth” to this project, in a sense, and that could show up in your dreams as a bump or baby.
There are also variations on this theme: Instead of being pregnant, you might dream about breastfeeding—and that dream could also be about “nurturing” a new project or goal, Dr. Barrett says.
5. You’re taking care of someone IRL and it’s draining you.
On the negative end of the spectrum, you might dream of caring for a new baby or breastfeeding because someone in your life is “sucking you dry,” Dr. Barrett notes. Do you have a friend who takes up all of your emotional space or is using you in other ways? This type of dreaming may be the way your brain is processing that situation you’re going through.
When it comes down to it, dreams are kind of a tangled web of emotions and slivers of memories or scenes your brain has recorded.
“One of the things about dreams is that they’re loaded with emotions,” Dr. Pelayo says. Some sleep specialists suspect that dreams are a way for our brains to reset memories and emotions; we collect so many memories throughout our lives, memories that are often tied to emotion, that our brains eventually have to decide what to remember and what to forget. They also have to decide how to connect these memories together.
“The things that make you laugh, and especially the things that make you scared, the brain has to take this new information and connect it to prior memories that you have,” Dr. Pelayo explains. “This connecting of old memories with new memories is done offline in the dreaming world.”
No matter what you dream about, it’s ultimately up to you how you interpret it.
A little recap: “Babies can represent the new: new endeavors, new relationships,” Dr. Barrett says. “Or, they can represent the vulnerable or immature part of the dreamer.” For another individual, pregnancy or babies in a dream could be a clue to something as straightforward as a desire for a child.
“Only the dreamer’s own associations can tell exactly what the dream symbol means in a particular case,” she says. So ask yourself, do I wish for this or fear this? What in my waking life feels like the baby in the dream? This can help you dissect what it might mean (if it means anything at all).
Are pregnancy dreams really bothering you? Consider grabbing a pen and starting a dream journal. Eventually, you may be able to spot patterns between your real-life emotions and your dreams and better interpret the significance.
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