Study objectives: Evaluate the prevalence and phenomenology of dream-associated behaviors affecting pregnant and postpartum mothers. Episodes consist of anxious dreams and nightmares about the new infant that are accompanied by complex behaviors (motor activity, speaking, expressing emotion).
Design: Three-group design (postpartum, pregnant, null gravida), self-report, and repeated measures.
Setting: Pregnancy and postpartum groups: completion of questionnaires in hospital room within 48 hours of giving birth and home telephone interviews; null gravida group: completion of questionnaires and interview in person or by telephone.
Participants: Two hundred seventy-three women in 3 groups: postpartum: n = 202 (mean age = 29.7 +/- 4.94 years; 95 primiparas, 107 multiparas); pregnant: n = 50 (mean age = 31.1 +/- 5.44 years); null gravida: n = 21 (mean age = 28.5 +/- 6.34 years).
Interventions: Subjects completed questionnaires about pregnancy and birth factors, personality, and sleep and participated in interviews concerning the prevalence of recent infant dreams and nightmares, associated behaviors, anxiety, depression, and other psychopathologic factors.
Measurements and results: Most women in all groups recalled dreams (88%-91%). Postpartum and pregnant women recalled infant dreams and nightmares with equal prevalence, but more postpartum women reported they contained anxiety (75%) and the infant in peril (73%) than did pregnant women (59%, P < 0.05 and 42%, P < 0.0001). More postpartum (63%) than pregnant (40%) women reported dream-associated behaviors (P < 0.01), but neither group differed from null gravida women (56%). This was due to different distributions over groups of the behavior subtypes. Motor activity was present in twice as many postpartum (57%) as pregnant (24%) or null gravida (25%) women (all P < 0.0001). Expressing emotion was more prevalent among null gravida (56%) than postpartum women (27%) (P < 0.05) but was not different from pregnant women (37%). Speaking was equally prevalent among the 3 groups (12%-19%). Behaviors were associated with nightmares, dream anxiety and, among postpartum women, post-awakening anxiety (41%), confusion (51%), and a need to check on the infant (60%). Primiparas and multiparas differed in dream and nightmare recall but not in prevalence of dream-associated behaviors.
Conclusion: The prevalent occurrence of pregnancy and postpartum infant dreams and associated behaviors may reflect the pervasive emotional influence of maternal concerns or changes instigated by severe sleep disruption, rapid eye movement sleep deprivation, and altered hormone levels.