What is postpartum OCD?
Postpartum OCD is one of those things that you don’t talk about, but it needs to be discussed to let you know that you are not a bad mother, nor are you a threat to your baby.
Unwanted thoughts of harming your infant are experienced by the majority of new parents, with half of the new mothers having intrusive thoughts of harming their child on purpose.(1)
This page is not just for mums. Fathers can experience alarming thoughts about their babies or children as well.
Many new mothers experience some very frightening and disturbing thoughts that they are going to harm their babies. These thoughts (and images) can fall under the following.
- Intrusive violent, or aggressive thoughts towards your baby.
- Thoughts of killing
- or harming your baby in any way can pop into your head
According to research (2), unwanted thoughts of intentionally harming your child are common amongst postpartum mothers and fathers in response to their child crying.
Structured self-help course for Intrusive Thoughts from the privacy of your home
Dr Ryan: Psychologist and Founder of MoodSmith
Uncomfortable thoughts about your baby
This is highly distressing for you. You might even find it difficult to read this page. If you do, take heart that the fact that you find it distressing is a clear sign that you are not going to do anything to harm your baby. You are experiencing intrusive thoughts. You can read more about these thoughts here.
Sexualised thoughts often happen when your child is undressed, for example, when you are changing your baby, bathing them, dressing them or putting them to bed.
It can also occur in innocent situations, such as kissing your baby’s tummy or bottom.
Not only are you sick to your stomach that you thought such things (or saw such images in your head) in the first instance, you are now getting beaten by another stick – ‘what kind of disgusting person are you, for having these thoughts?’
You might be so frightened by what is happening to you that you no longer want to touch your child in case you touch him or her inappropriately, or worse, someone suspects that you are having these thoughts towards your child.
Things that used to delight you, such as bathing your child, are now something you try to avoid.
You may experience deep shame.
You are not alone in experiencing any of these things; you are not a threat to your child or a bad person. You are experiencing intrusive thoughts and images.
You might start to avoid things or do things differently
You might not want to be around other mums for fear that they might see right through you.
You might not want to change, touch or bathe your baby as you are terrified you are capable of doing something terrible.
If you have to change them, you might do this while looking away to avoid doing any harm.
If any of this is familiar to you, then the distress you are experiencing could well be intrusive thoughts or postpartum OCD.
The thoughts and images are what you obsess about in your head – and the compulsions are the changes in your behaviour, such as avoiding things or not looking at your baby when they are naked.
Just reading about it is all the need to normalise what is happening for some people. If you need more help, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness will help you make sense of what is happening to you and address the problem.
If you would like my help, you might want to take a look at the course I have on Intrusive Thoughts, and you can read about it here.
Collardeau, F., Corbyn, B., Abramowitz, J. et al. Maternal unwanted and intrusive thoughts of infant-related harm, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression in the perinatal period: study protocol. BMC Psychiatry 19, 94 (2019).
Fairbrother, N., Barr, R. G., Chen, M., Riar, S., Miller, E., Brant, R., & Ma, A. (2019). Prepartum and postpartum mothers’ and fathers’ unwanted, intrusive thoughts in response to infant crying. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 47(2), 129–147.