Intrusive distressing thoughts are normal and we all experience them from time to time. Research shows that they are even more common after giving birth – up to 80% of all new mothers report distressing unwanted thoughts concerning fears of intentionally or accidentally causing harm to the baby. This suggests that thoughts concerning safety may be normal aspects of parenthood.
One way to determine if these thoughts are becoming problematic is to assess the degree of distress and level of impairment they are causing. Some mothers become really distressed by these thoughts and worry they are going to act upon them. It is understandable that thinking you can harm your baby is distressing, and these thoughts can seem dangerous and make you feel anxious or fearful. As a response, many mothers start avoiding interactions with their babies, for example, refrain from holding or changing their baby, ask for reassurance or develop checking behaviours (for example, constantly checking if the sleeping baby is alive). These behaviours get reinforced as they temporarily reduce anxiety, however, they can affect quality of mother-baby interactions and maintain anxiety in the long run. Often, mothers are also too afraid to share these thoughts with others (“what if they will take my baby away”), which prevents them from asking for help and realising these thoughts are normal.
Some professionals believe that these intrusive thoughts are occurring due to hormonal fluctuations in the postpartum period. Others suggest that sudden increase in responsibility, overestimation of possibility of harm and threat to the newborn, and development of behaviours to decrease distress maintain intrusive distressing thoughts.
Effective treatments for postnatal depression and intrusive distressing thoughts are available. Contact Dr Alla Demutska, Clinical Psychologist, for more information 0423931504.