"I had dreams of someone following me constantly. Still remember them, and it was 28 years ago," one mom told Refinery29. Another described a still-vivid dream in which she had to break up an intense fight between her husband and high school ex. The one common thread between these two women? They had these dreams while they were a pregnant — a period that's notorious for throwing off the content of people's dreams.
According to Jessica Lara-Carrasco, PhD, the fluctuations in hormones and physiological changes that almost all pregnant people experience could be to blame for the strange, stressful, or downright scary dreams that some moms-to-be end up having. For example, pregnancy can negatively affect your quality of sleep — and impaired sleep has been linked to nightmares.
Beyond that, she says, pregnancy is an emotionally trying time for a lot of people. Between monitoring the baby's growth, preparing for their arrival, and, you know, still caring for yourself, you're likely to be a little more stressed than usual. And increased anxiety and stress can absolutely prompt an increase in nightmares (or, as Dr. Lara-Carrasco calls them, dysphoric dreams).
She notes that, overall, dysphoric dreams do tend to be common among pregnant people: "Our prospective research shows that dreams are more disturbed and generally more negative than non-pregnant women’s dreams." But, her research also suggests that people may see an uptick in nightmare frequency during the third trimester. Again, this could be due to stress, but more research needs to be done to know for sure.
For the record, Dr. Lara-Carrasco says that not all pregnant people will experience a dramatic change in their dreams. It depends on what else is going on in someone's life (say, if they're dealing with additional stressors on top of their pregnancy), their overall physical and mental health, and how they process emotions. And, of course, people who aren't pregnant can still have wild dreams.
Whatever the cause of your pregnancy-driven nightmares may be, if your dreams continue to be intense or frightening, consider talking to a therapist. At the very least, hopefully you can take comfort in the fact that you aren't alone in dealing with the weird changes that come with pregnancy. If you haven't already started a dream-specific discussion thread with any pregnant friends you might have, now's the time.