Kindell, a 21-year-old from Clearwater Beach, Florida, is not looking to have kids anytime soon.
But for the last four years, she’s had intense recurring dreams about a hypothetical baby. In the earliest iterations of the dream, the baby was a newborn lying on the couch while Kindell was folding laundry or doing other chores.
In successive dreams, the baby has gotten older. Meanwhile, though Kindell isn’t pining for children, she said the “gut feeling” that it really is her child has gotten more intense.
“One of the latest ‘dream baby’ dreams I can remember is walking down a sidewalk holding a 4- or 5-year-old girl’s hand and we’re just talking about random things like colors and farm animals,” said Kindell, who asked to use her first name only to protect her privacy.
One weird detail is that she never sees the baby’s face ― the child is facing away from her or their face is blurred.
Kindell said she feels inexplicably sad every time she wakes up from these baby-centric dreams.
“I wake up so content and happy and then after three seconds I realize that it’s a dream and I have a pit in my stomach that lingers for at least the rest of the day,” she said. “I honestly feel kind of embarrassed about it because how can I miss a baby that doesn’t exist? But I do.”
Talk of dream babies has been all over TikTok, with young women ― most of whom say they’re not looking to get pregnant ― detailing the realistic dreams they’ve had of caring for a baby. Currently, the hashtag #dreambaby has 4.8 million views on TikTok. (Of course, there are probably just as many women having these dreams who wake up deeply relieved they’re still child-free, but they’re not posting about it.)
Kindell is among those who recounted her dream on TikTok:
In another TikTok clip, a woman joked that “no one’s closer than a girl in her 20s and the baby that she had in her dream.”
One woman named Meg said she “graphically gave birth” in her dream to a baby, who even had a name (Finley).
If you’re thinking this is just a hyperbolized TikTok trend, you’re wrong. Dreams like Kindell’s (and the emotions that tend to follow) are actually pretty common. And it’s worth giving some thought to the dream’s meaning, said Lauri Loewenberg, the author of “Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life.”
In her 26-year career as a professional dream analyst, Loewenberg has heard of women in all stages of their lives having dream babies, including those who want kids but definitely not in the moment, those who adamantly don’t want children, those who can’t have children and those who are done having children.
“TikTok gives us an intimate way to share on a global scale and helps us see how very common it is for women to dream of having babies,” she said.
The dreaming mind is so good at recreating fictitious babies, the sensory details can be almost overwhelming at times, said Tore Nielsen, a dream researcher and director of the Dream and Nightmare Lab at the University of Montreal.
“In complete honesty, it is a little scary that emotions in dreams can carry over from the subconscious with that kind of intensity.”
– Hailey Case, a student who dreamed she had a baby
“People report feeling a pregnant belly or a fetus kicking inside, feeling the baby lying on the chest or moving around in the bed, seeing the baby’s facial features, like their eye color or smile,” he said.
“We initially thought that such vivid dreams occurred only in the postpartum period but the ‘dream babies’ phenomenon suggests that it is much more widespread and generalized,” Nielsen said.
The emotional and bonding experience of having a dream baby is often hyperrealistic.
“The incredible realism of the dreams is a big part of why dreamers feel such a severe sense of loss or grief when they wake up,” Nielsen said.
It’s that vivid authenticity of the dreams that college student Hailey Case said catches her off guard when she has these types of visions. (Case, a 22-year-old student at Kansas State University, posted a TikTok about her dream babies, too.)
“It almost felt like living a parallel life,” she said in an interview. “The dreams were never surreal or fantastical, just a glimpse into an alternate reality where I was a parent to a young child.”
Case said she felt an odd, particular sense of loss upon waking up and realizing it was all just a dream. It was not on par with genuine grief after a loss, but the emotions were still intense and difficult to process.
“In complete honesty, it is a little scary that emotions in dreams can carry over from the subconscious with that kind of intensity,” the college student said.
Joshua Black, a grief and bereavement researcher and host of the Grief Dreams podcast, sees some parallels between these dreams and those people have about loved ones who’ve died.
“The dream could help regulate a person’s emotions, to feel the unacknowledged grief in their life,” he said. “There is a lot going on in this world, and suppressing one’s grief is a common tactic to deal with it. This dream may just be the way the mind can allow it out to be felt.”
As for what the dream is trying to communicate, dreams often reflect our waking life and our major emotional concerns. They can be passive, in that they reflect preoccupations from the day or days leading up to the dream, and/or they can be active, in that they assist in problem-solving, Black said.
“They can even help us face things we may be avoiding,” he said.
“Once awake, the challenge to fully understand a dream comes from trying to translate those metaphors back to the personal underlying meaning,” she said.
So what could these dream babies really mean? Below, our dream experts offer a few explanations.
Interpretation 1: Your maternal instinct is kicking in.
Let’s start with the obvious: Even if raising kids is a far-off prospect, your subconscious mind may be ruminating on the eventuality of parenthood.
“There is most definitely a mind-body connection and our dreams will often give us a heads up about what is going on with our bodies,” Loewenberg said. “So sometimes this dream in your twenties can mean that the biological clock has begun ticking, those deeply rooted instincts are beginning to surface and your subconscious is trying to guide you toward that goal.”
Interpretation 2: You’re pregnant or mourning a miscarriage.
Some people report having a baby dream before they know they are pregnant in their first trimester, Black said.
“It could be based on being pregnant and the dream can enhance the bonding and attachment with the child, or even reduce fears of being a parent,” he said.
Alternately, those who’ve had a miscarriage may be mourning the loss through their dreams.
Interpretation 3: There’s something in your life ― a new project or idea, for instance ― that needs nurturing.
Think, too, of the metaphorical meaning of the word “birth” ― as in giving birth to an idea or a project.
“These baby dreams can be more symbolic of ‘giving birth’ to a new part of yourself,” Black said. “This could be a deeper understanding of themselves and who they want to be in the world that is forming.”
In this case, your subconscious may be trying to highlight a new element in your life that requires special attention, devotion and nurturing in order for it (or for you) to grow, Loewenberg said. For instance, a burgeoning relationship, a new job, a newly adopted pet, or a new idea or project.
“Your subconscious is trying to let you know that those maternal instincts would be very beneficial if you put them towards this new element in your life,” she said.
Interpretation 4: You’re trying to connect with your inner child.
Dreaming of a baby can also speak to the need to connect to a “baby” (or inner child) part of the self ― one that’s not yet developed, needed care it never got or is yearning to grow in new ways, said Sandra E. Cohen, a psychoanalyst in Beverly Hills, California.
“This has been a difficult few years for many of us. And it has been a time of much soul-searching, change and wished-for change,” she said. “In my practice, I’ve recently had more people coming to me who want a deeper understanding of themselves, as well as their symptoms; not merely skills or tools to manage anxiety or depression.”
Whatever interpretation resonates with you ― and maybe you’ve settled on a different kind of close-read of your dream baby ― try to find the value in what your subconscious may be trying to tell you.
“In Western culture, we tend not to value dreams, despite dreams having value in other cultures and many religions,” Black said. “I think it is great for people to normalize their dream experiences in a community like TikTok.”