1. First, what are they?
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted, anxiety-provoking, distressful thoughts that are uncharacteristic in nature and can show up at any time and be repetitive and overwhelming.
And they are COMMON.
You are absolutely not alone in having them and feeling all the feelings that come along with experiencing them. Intrusive thoughts are a symptom and do not define you.
2. Having intrusive thoughts doesn’t make you a bad parent.
You are not having intrusive thoughts because you are a bad parent. You are amazing. They are unwanted, show up at any time in the day or night with no warning, and they can be repetitive. They are uncharacteristic and can cause anxiety, fear and sadness. Although it may feel as though you are “going crazy” you are not. Having them does not mean that you have postpartum psychosis. Intrusive thoughts are common to all people, at any time in their life.
The intrusive thoughts that we experience about our children carry so much weight because they are so distressing. Having intrusive thoughts does not mean that you are going to harm your baby.
3. Common Intrusive Thoughts
Some common intrusive thoughts in the perinatal period are:
Something bad is going to happen to my baby
I am going to trip while carrying her and she is going to be dropped
I am going to get in a car accident if I take him out
My baby is going to stop breathing in their sleep
My baby is going to get sick
My baby is not going to get enough food, and then they will die
My baby is going to slip in the bathtub
I am going to cause harm to my baby
I am going to drown my baby while I bathe her.
I am going to throw him down the stairs.
I am going to leave her in the hot car.
I am going to cut him with a knife.
I am going to throw her over the balcony.
I am going to leave her in the woods.
It is also a normal reaction if you are having thoughts of harming your child, to develop avoidance behaviours. For example, if you are having thoughts of drowning your baby, an avoidance behaviour would be that you would want someone else to bathe her.
4. Things You Can Do When They Pop Up
When you are having an intrusive thought, try your best to distract yourself. You can start singing a song out loud, or in your head right away to change the focus of your brain. You can turn on some uplifting music or music that makes you feel good. Go outside. Don’t worry about those sweatpants, just walk over to the door, put your shoes on, grab the baby carrier and out you go! Walk around the block, pick some weeds in your garden, take the pooch for a little stroll, go grab the mail… anything. Just go outside.
If it is winter or raining, you can drive somewhere that you can be distracted and walk around: Chapters is great because there is also so many neat books you could look at and read while you are there! You could get a membership to Science North, and spend a whole afternoon just walking around and enjoying the view, light and stimulation.
Pick up the phone and call someone you love. Have a list of “support people” that you can call at anytime to talk about anything, just to change your train of thought.
5. Things You Can Tell Yourself When They Pop Up
Tell yourself every single time an unwanted thought comes in:
“I will not always feel this way”
“This is just a symptom, not who I am”
“I am an amazing parent and person”
“You have no power over me though, you are just a thought”
Write in a journal. You can get one at the dollar store for $2, and it will help you get your feelings out of your body. Tell someone that you love and trust and talk to your partner about it telling them that you need their support.
6. How Your Partner Can Help
Partners- you can be the head cheerleader here, keep reminding your love that she is so amazing and wonderful and that these are thoughts that are a side effect or symptom of the huge changes that her body is going through, and that they are not a representation of her as a mother.
You can help to check in with her throughout the day, make time to spend outside of the house together and make sure that every day she has time to do something for herself.
Also, to support her, if you notice that she is very anxious and or is worried about giving the baby a bath, offer to bathe the baby or to sit with her, ask her what you can do to help her ease her feelings of fear and anxiety. Do not minimize her feelings. Validate them and try your best to imagine how scary that would be and then love the dickens right out of her!
You can also see a therapist that is trained in perinatal mental health as well, we are here to help you on this journey through motherhood.
If would like to book a Free Consultation with Shannon, our Perinatal Therapist click here or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.