4 Things to Know about Postpartum Intrusive Thoughts

Written By Abigail Carey, MA, LMHC, LPC, CMHS

The postpartum period is full of expectations about what it will be like to bring a new member into the family. When the reality doesn’t match with what was expected it can be disappointing, and when a part of that is experiencing unwanted, and uncomfortable intrusive thoughts, it can be downright devastating. If you’ve ever felt this way, here is what you should know about intrusive thoughts in the postpartum period:  


1.They are more common than you probably think.

It is estimated that between 70-100% of new mothers experience unwanted, intrusive thoughts, at least once. This is in comparison to the estimated 80-99% of the general population who experience these types of thoughts. These thoughts tend to be “what-if” thoughts and can concern harm to their infant that is either intentional or unintentional. For example: “what if I drop my baby”.  


2.They do not make you a bad parent.

Currently, the research does not suggest that intrusive thoughts make an individual any more likely to harm their child than any other parent. Intrusive thoughts are often the result of the activation of the anxiety response intended to keep us safe and prevent harm. Unfortunately, shame and guilt surrounding intrusive thoughts can keep mothers from seeking help and disclosing their struggles to others, which in turn, creates a cycle of isolation and misunderstanding for those experiencing intrusive thoughts.    


3.They may indicate that you are struggling with a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder (PMAD). 

And they may not. In order to meet criteria for any mental health disorder, several symptoms must be experienced over a fixed period of time. This is true with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, as well. While intrusive thoughts are one symptom you might experience, that alone does not mean you have a PMAD. However, if you are concerned, reach out. Let’s talk.  


4.There is hope and help available.  

With the appropriate care and support of a trained clinician, PMADs are very treatable. According to 2020 Mom, 1 in 5 women will experience a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder during the postpartum period and yet only 15% of those women will receive treatment. If you are struggling with intrusive thoughts, there is hope. I can help.   


If you’re not ready to move forward with therapy yet, but would still like resources and someone to talk to, please consider contacting Postpartum Support International by calling or texting help to 1-800-944-4773. 


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


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