Do newborn babies dream? About what?

Do newborns dream, and if so, what about?
They haven’t yet experienced anything or created memories yet.
And my husband pointed out that their brains are still developing.

The experience of a newborn’s dream is something we can only speculate about, but they do spend a huge amount of time in REM sleep, the phase that correlates with dreaming in those old enough to report what they were experiencing when woken up during the phase. This old Science article(pdf) has a great graphic of it - newborns spend 8 hours of their 16 hours of daily sleep in REM, adults’ total sleep is just 8 and of it less than 2 is typically in REM. The thought is that REM activity somehow* drives* the development of connections, both as a normal part of development during the rapid brain growth phase of infancy, and as part of memory consolidation later in life.

Likely they dream as they experience the world at that point and try to make sense of what William James famously described as the “great blooming buzzing confusion” around them.

Not only newborns, but foetuses, have REM sleep. It does not follow, however, that they are experiencing dreams, dreams about stuff, in the way that older children and adults do.

According to certain theories of dreaming (not all - dream theory is a controversial area of science) dreams are the result of effectively random stimulation of perceptual areas of the brain (including those that control eye movements) by circuits in the brainstem. The events thus stimulated in perceptual cortices then get interpreted (perhaps not until we wake up) as perceptual experiences. If we have a dream about a giant cow, that is because we are able to recognize the random stuff going in our sensory cortices as similar to what would be going on there if we were actually experiencing a giant cow. Newborn babies are presumably not able to make such comparisons, so the “dream” activity will just seem meaningless to them until they have acquired enough experience of actual, real things in waking life to make comparisons with.

OTOH they are experiencing the world in some manner and likely experience the brain activity of REM as some variation of that experience … dreams about the stuff that is their waking experience (sensations, needs, satisfactions of needs, the feeling of sucking and what results, sounds some soothing and familiar already, some not, smells, some associated with relief of needs, some not, touch, some sensations that seem to travel together … so on) of the world.

Comparably other animals also have REM and, as this article discusses, very probably experience some dream state of their own sorts as well.

Not meaningless; of the meanings that matter to the brain that is expereincing it.

I’ve seen my babies apparently dreaming they were feeding, judging by the sucking moments of their mouths. It’s as amusing as watching the dog run in her sleep.

About people taking their bottles away.

My son, who is 3 months old, will smile and make noises when he sleeps, which definitely makes me think he has thoughts of some kind (boobies!!)

As was said upthread, it is similar to when you see a pet move their paws, or whimper, while they sleep. I presume it is dreaming.

Or, you know, it might just be that pleasure or fear centres, or suckling centres, in the brain are being randomly stimulated by the signals from the brainstem. Evidence like this is not sufficient to infer that the “dreams” have any content at all, let alone any particular content (that the baby actually consciously experiences). I am not saying they can’t have any dream content (and anyway, a three-month-old, unlike a true newborn, has already had quite a lot of actual experiences that might provide enough of a basis for him to be able to begin to interpret his dreams - as has a grown dog), but we don’t know and can’t know that they do, and evidence such as that which you mention does not really help us to know.

Of course njtt we cannot know what a baby exeriences (or for that matter, what is like to be a bat) during REM or any other time, but I am not getting your point here.

Are you not believing that an awake newborn has experiences, has some internal experience of sensations?

Do they dream of embryonic sheep?

Good one!

boob dreams.

Normally, during REM sleep, your baby would be paralyzed except for his eyes. So, the sucking movement probably happens during other phases of his sleep.

Of course they have sensations. I am saying they need to have a few of those first, and start making sense of them, having real perceptions of things rather than just sensations, before they can start dreaming about anything. Seeing (and perceiving via the other senses) is not something we can do automatically. It is a skill that has to be learned, through practice. Newborn babies are just beginning to learn it.

The things that fill our (adults’ and older children’s) dreams are not sensations. They are meaningful images. They represent things. (I am not talking about subconscious fears or whatever. I just mean that if you dream about a cow, or a monster, or, come to that, mommy or boobies, you are dreaming about those things, and your dream images represent them.) I am saying newborn babies (and yet to be born babies, who also have REM sleep) don’t, can’t, have that sort of dream, a dream with things and events in it, not until they get some real-world experiences and start to make some sense of them. No doubt pretty soon some of their dreams do start to be about boobs, or bottles, in a way, but even then they are going to be very vague at first. Its not a boob as you or I or even a one year old would know it, its probably going to be more like just softness, warmth, goodness and sucking vaguely associated together.

Still not getting how you are defining a “real perception”, “making sense”, and “meaningful” in this context.

Newborns see. Yes the visual circuits further develop based to some significant degree on experiences (and call that a skill being learned by practice if you want) and hearing discrimination develops based on experiences as well. But they already see and prefer faces to other objects and already hear and prefer Mom’s voice to others.

They have experienced events. They are not the events that seem momentous to you but given that they are learning “meaning”, making connections, and “making sense” of it all at a pace that you and I can only, well, dream of, it is an impressive experience to be going through.

Is it the exact sort of dream with things and events as you experience such things and events? Of course not. But the op did not ask if they have dreams like you have.

Do they dream? They spend a great amount of time in the phase of sleep that we know is associated with dreaming; it is highly improbable that they are not experiencing something during that phase.

What are those dreams like? No way to know of course. Highly unlikely to be about things and events in the manner that we as adults or even older children dream about cows and monsters and other things, maybe even boobies. Highly likely to be some variant of the way in which they are seeing and experiencing the world during their wake periods and possibly some shapes and sensations that are not of the world as well, more related to predisposed circuits and prenatal experiences.

Well I really don’t know how to make it any clearer, not without making you sit through a whole course on the cognitive science of perception. Do you really not understand the difference between seeing an object (that is an example of what I mean by “real perception”) and having a sensation of light of a certain color at a certain point in your visual field?

No, that is not what I meant by a skill learned by practice. I meant just what I said. Seeing is not a matter of having your eyes open and letting the information flow into your brain (with developed circuits or not), it is a skillful, learned activity of seeking out the useful, informative information available in the patterned light around us. You have to know where to look and what you are looking for, and you are not born knowing it. Newborns arrive with a small handful of innate predispositions to respond in certain ways to certain aspects of that patterning, such as certain patterns that (as we know, but they don’t) specify faces. But it is rudimentary, and the rest, including such basic things as that there are such things as objects, things that move as a whole and have relatively invariant properties, they have to learn. They are pretty darn busy doing that learning in their first few months (not that it stops after that, or ever).

A newborn is not going to be able to dream about a pony, even if a pony has passed before his eyes in the short time he has been out in the world. It is not just that he does not know it is a pony, or anything about what ponies are like. It is much more extreme than that: he doesn’t even know that it was a thing, he does not know that when part of his visual world turned brown for a bit that was because some brown thing was passing before his eyes.

Why yes I do understand the difference and in fact have sat through many levels of courses on cognitive neuroscience with partcular interest in developmental issues. (I’d suggest you take an introductory infant development class yourself before you make any more pronouncments of how the “skill” of vision is practiced). What I am trying to make clear is if in fact you actually are taking the position that what an infant experiences is just sensations of light in their visual fields.

Infants are much more sophisticated in their processing than the simple jellyfish-like objects you seem to think they are.

No they do not understand about ponies and much of what they do is indeed reflexive. The infant brain is not the adult brain and relatively less of behavior is neocortically driven. But they are being bombarded with new sensations of huge numbers and types, some that they are figuring out travel together and some that do not. Within a short period of time (2 to 3 days - pdf) they have gone from being immersed in confusing overwhelming stimulii to being able to discriminate between pictures of their mothers’ faces from other women. They can recognize their own mothers’ smells within a few hours of birth. (Without having or needing a concept of the object that is “mother”) Most experts believe that the massive amounts of time that newborns and infants spend in REM serves to somehow support that rapid adaptation to all that they are experiencing and to organize it in forms that have salient meaning to a newborn.

So yes, agreed. A newborn is unlikely to dream of ponies. Ponies are not exactly salient to a newborn. I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed of ponies either for that matter.

Out of curiousity, when do you think the ghost inhabits the machine? When do dreams begin to your way of thinking. And what is ocurring during REM in the sleep cycle before they do?

My daughter laughed in her sleep as a newborn. I thought we must have been imagining it, but Google turned up some studies that babies as young as two weeks can laugh in their sleep, which was about when she started. That would seem to raise the question of what a two week old baby would find funny, but it probably has more to do with brain development than any genuine amusement.

Well, they have experienced sounds prior to birth.