Thought Cloud

Are unwelcome thoughts getting in the way?

Are unwelcome thoughts getting in the way?

Intrusive thoughts can occur when you become a mother.

Having a baby can be a very exciting, and simultaneously challenging, time in your life. You may have just had your first baby and be busy learning the ropes. Or you may be adjusting to welcoming a new baby into your growing family. Early parenthood is a time when parents, particularly mothers, are responsible for the health and safety of their infant. During this time, it is normal to experience worries about a baby’s sleep patterns, feeding and development among other concerns.

Some mothers, however, may find themselves experiencing upsetting or disturbing thoughts that seem to come out of the blue. We call these intrusive thoughts. While we all experience intrusive thoughts at some point in our lives, we are usually able to dismiss these easily and move on without taking much notice. But for some, such intrusive thoughts can seem much more meaningful and threatening and cause high levels of distress.

There will be moments for all parents when their baby won’t settle or stop crying. Add sleep deprivation to the mix and it is common to feel frustrated, angry and overwhelmed. For some mothers, this can lead to extremely worrying thoughts about accidentally or intentionally hurting their baby. A loss of confidence in her parenting abilities may lead a mother to avoid holding, touching or being alone with her baby with distressing consequences for her and her child.

Even though such thoughts are rarely acted upon, a sense of guilt or shame can prevent a mother talking about her experience for fear of being judged or, worse, having her baby taken from her. It is important to understand that these thoughts do not mean that you want harm to come to your baby, or that you will harm your baby.  In reality, such intrusive thoughts are much more likely to signal that a mother is feeling overwhelmed and tired, and that her capacity to cope has diminished.

Although distressing, it is important to recognise that intrusive thoughts are common during the perinatal period and that you are not alone. While part of the normal experience of motherhood, they can be a symptom of the wider experience of postnatal depression or anxiety, so it is worthwhile to seek support if your thoughts or behaviours are causing you concern. It may be helpful to speak about your experiences with a supportive loved one or a health professional such as your GP or a psychologist. Care is readily available to help you manage intrusive thinking so that you can get back to what is truly important. 

Sophie Lynn-Evans & Prue Foster

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