Post Partum OCD: Unwanted thoughts of harming your child

post partum ocd tired parents with family
Dr Elaine Ryan
Written by Dr Elaine Ryan Psychologist and Founder of MoodSmith® Elaine obtained her Dr in Psychology from the University of Surrey and has worked in psychology for 20 years. Dr Ryan specialises in Intrusive Thoughts, OCD and anxiety-related conditions.

What is post partum OCD?

Postpartum OCD is one of those things that you don’t talk about, but it really 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 parent, with half of new mothers having intrusive thoughts of harming their child on purpose.(1)

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This page is not just for mums.  Fathers can experience alarming thoughts about their baby or children as well.

Many new mothers experience some very frightening and disturbing thoughts that they are going to harm their baby.These thoughts (and images) can fall under the following.

 

Intrusive violent or aggressive thoughts towards your baby.

  • Thoughts of killing
  • Stabbing
  • Suffocating
  • Beating
  • 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.

Sexual thoughts about your baby

This is extremely distressing for you.  You might even find it difficult reading this page.  If you do, take heart in 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 happen most often 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 the most innocent of 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, is 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, nor are you 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, in order 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 are obsessing 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.

 

Treatment

For some people, just reading about it is all the need to normalise what is happening.  If you need more help, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness will help you not only to make sense of what is happening to you, but also 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.

  1. 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). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-019-2067-x
  2. 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. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1352465818000474

ONLINE SELF-HELP

If you would like my help, please see my online courses.

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