Having intrusive thoughts can feel like a nightmare. Often about harm happening to your baby, intrusive thoughts can affect moms and dads.
The transition to motherhood is shocking for many reasons, but one thing that caught me off guard when I became a mother was intrusive thoughts. In the first year after my baby was born, the thoughts were almost constant. If I was walking with him, I would imagine dropping him. If I was driving in a car with him, I would imagine crashing. I could almost hear the screams. Intrusive thoughts are extremely common and nothing to be ashamed of.
What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts that cause distress and affect 91% of new mothers and 88% of new fathers. These thoughts come out of nowhere and usually involve nightmare-like “movies” of the baby getting hurt somehow. These thoughts can be a symptom of postpartum OCD, but often is an unfortunate symptom of postpartum life.
In my experience, the thoughts were vivid and felt so real it would knock the air out of my lungs at times. I felt like a monster or a crazy person. Why would I be having these horrible thoughts about my precious new little bundle that had brought me such joy? Ashamed, I didn’t share these thoughts with anyone (and still had trouble writing this to share it with all of you).
Why Do Intrusive Thoughts Happen?
If you have had the nightmare of intrusive thoughts, you might wonder why on earth they happen. Our brains make us think that if we anticipate danger then we will be more safe. In this case, our brains think our baby will be more safe. In a strange way, having the thought will make you guard against the things you fear. For example, if you have an intrusive thought about dropping your baby, your physical reaction will be to hold on tighter.
Sometimes these thoughts can mean nothing, sometimes they can reveal an underlying mental health condition like postpartum OCD or PTSD. If your intrusive thoughts are interfering with your daily activities, talking to your doctor is the recommended action step.
What to Do if You Have Intrusive Thoughts
Coping with intrusive thoughts is not an easy task. They feel real and traumatic. I have found that I have to handle them the same way I would handle a panic attack.
- Breathe and bring yourself into the present moment. Use a technique for this if it helps. For example, find all the red things in the room, taking a moment to study each thing.
- Remind yourself of what is true. Are you really going to drop your baby? Most likely not.
- Distract Yourself. In a healthy way. I don’t mean to go on social media and doom scroll. I mean to busy your mind with something else.
- Prioritise your sleep. Getting as much rest as possible postpartum helps me in every area of my life including intrusive thoughts. I know this one is difficult with a little one. I learned to let go of how clean my house was or the things I felt I had to do and take naps if I needed to. That has become the priority over the years of having more and more babies.
- Ask for help if needed. See your doctor, midwife, or even your best friend if intrusive thoughts are impacting your life so much that you can’t function.
- Know that you’re not alone! 91% of new mothers have intrusive thoughts, too. I know I said that above, but it’s worth mentioning again. This is normal!
- PRAY. I truly believe that many intrusive thoughts are from the devil himself. He wants to disturb us and traumatise us and make us feel like bad mothers. Pray against these thoughts. Pray that Jesus will help take them away immediately. He tells us to cast all our burdens on Him because He cares for us. And it’s true! And He cares for your baby, too.