05 September 2007

Nightmares haunt new moms

After giving birth, women commonly experience anxious dreams of their new infants being in peril, a new study suggests.

After giving birth, women commonly experience anxious dreams of their new infants being in peril, a new study suggests.

In one particular type of dream, researchers found, the mother may act 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 or BIB dream "often reaches hallucinatory proportions," study chief Dr Tore Nielsen told Reuters Health. "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."

Nielson and co-researcher Tyna Paquette, of the Sleep Research Centre at the Sacre-Coeur Hospital in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, analysed dream-associated behaviours 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 majority of women in all three groups recalled having dreams, the investigators report in the latest issue of the journal Sleep.

Dreams riddled with anxiety
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).

More of the women with new babies (63 percent) than women who had yet to deliver (40 percent) reported dream-enacting behaviours - moving about in the bed, speaking, expressing emotions. Fifty-six percent of non-pregnant women also reported dream-associated behaviours.

"Interestingly," Nielsen said, a small percentage of fathers also reported dream-enacting behaviours concerning their newborns.

Crying while asleep
The dream behaviour of expressing emotions, "which has never been studied in adults before, is surprisingly common," Nielsen told Reuters Health. "The most common form of expressing emotion we noted was crying during the dream; the women often woke up with tears running down their cheeks or their pillows damp."

The intense physical, hormonal and emotional changes surrounding pregnancy and childbirth likely play a role in infant-related dreams and associated behaviours in new mothers and moms-to-be, the authors conclude.

SOURCE: Sleep, September 1, 2007. – (Reuters Health)

Read more:
Sleep Centre
Pregnancy Centre

September 2007


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