Nearly every new parent worries about the safety of their baby.
Some parents keep hand sanitizer closeby, everywhere they go. They guard their babies from sneezing guests, and watch over them while they sleep.
It makes perfect sense that we want to keep our babies safe.
However, for 65% of new parents surveyed for a study, the drive to keep their baby safe presents as obsessive intrusive thoughts.
Worrying about the common cold and whether your baby is warm at night seems par for the course, but what about the scarier thoughts?
Is it normal to worry about your baby catching a rare illness? Or how they could be injured if you trip down the stairs?
These thoughts can be frightening and make the anxieties and fear even worse.
Why New Parents Have Scary Thoughts
Scientists believe new parents are wired to be on alert to protect their children from potential hazards. The alertness to protect their offspring is likely more pronounced in the immediate postnatal period as babies are fully dependent on their caregivers. While the drive to protect is a good thing, it can then lead to scary and intrusive thoughts about all the potential hazards we may need to protect our little ones from.
In an age of constant media intruding from ever angle, our imaginations can run wild with all the things that could go wrong. With news stories on TV, alerts on our phones, warning labels and of course the constant social media interaction, it can be hard to only remain alert to immediate concerns – such as if baby is warm and sleeping in a safe spot.
Are There Thoughts That Make Me A Bad Mother?
New mothers, especially first time mothers, can be frightened by the unexpected intrusive thoughts. With upwards of 90% of new parents experiencing worries, you’re hardly alone…but it isn’t something many mothers talk about. The thoughts can be morbid and disturbing and fear of judgement keeps many mothers from discussing their anxieties.
Perhaps you have thoughts about what would happen if your baby was harmed due to your fault. You have no desire or thoughts that you will, but the thought of you harming your baby pops into your head and is quite scary. Fear of judgement means these thoughts aren’t a topic of discussion at the new mothers’ playgroup and so many mothers deal with these thoughts thinking they’re not a good mother – which is, of course, untrue.
Are Scary Thoughts A Postnatal Mood Disorder?
Obsessive intrusive thoughts can be a red flag for a postnatal mood disorder, however, they aren’t always – and in most cases it seems to be part of the typical postnatal adjustment period.
If you have thoughts time to time about the possibility of a house fire, car accident or illness but you’re able to brush the thoughts aside knowing they’re unlikely and continue about your day, chances are you’re handling these thoughts well. Sometimes knowing that anxious thoughts can be normal is enough to help you brush them aside. You’re able to recognize that these thoughts aren’t a reflection of your parenting or your love for your baby.
The exception to anxious thoughts being part of the typical postnatal adjustment is when they begin to interfere with your ability to go about your day. If you begin avoiding leaving the house in fear that something will happen then you might need help working through these thoughts. Perhaps you’re worried about your baby’s safety so you watch over them when they sleep and as a result you’re hardly sleeping.
Fear can be crippling. If you’re feeling too worried to participate in life or even enough that you or your partner is concerned, reach out to your midwife or OB/GYN. Perhaps you’ve become concerned about accidentally harming your baby so you avoid holding her to protect her. Maybe your thoughts are disturbing and you’re worried about your mental state.
Upwards of 20% of mothers experience postnatal mood disorders and while they are challenging there is help – you don’t have to suffer alone with anxious or disturbing thoughts. There are many resources for mothers struggling with postnatal mood disorders – such as counseling, medications and alternative therapies.
If the idea of acting on a disturbing thought feels relieving, or you fear for the safety of yourself or your baby it’s important to seek help immediately, even if it means calling 911.
Tips For Coping With Anxious Thoughts
Anytime you’re concerned about you or your baby’s wellbeing it’s a good idea to reach out to your healthcare provider. Even if you think it might be normal but you’re still concerned, they can offer you reassurance and help you decide if you need more support.
While we are very connected these days, we aren’t always open and honest due to fear of judgement. If you’re having anxious thoughts it can be helpful to talk with safe people about them. Sometimes voicing a thought out loud can help you process it. You might worry about your child contracting a serious illness but in talking it over with your partner or friend you realize the likelihood is very small.
Some mothers find limiting news stories helpful. We can have pretty vivid imaginations and we don’t always need help finding new things to worry about. It’s nice to be up to date with current events, but sometimes self-care means limiting media. You can ask your partner to fill you in on anything important, or perhaps reading a newspaper can be helpful instead of dramatized news clips.
Many new mothers find just having another person present can reduce anxious thoughts. Whether it’s simply distraction or the calming presence of another person able to help should something arise, it often helps to not be alone. If your partner’s already returned to work, reach out to family and friends to come visit you. Find new mothers’ or breastfeeding support groups – you’re likely to feel better just knowing others are experiencing similar things during their postnatal period.
Lack of sleep is a big problem for new mothers, and it can significantly impact your physical and emotional health. Try to ensure you get adequate rest, some exercise (once you’re cleared by your midwife/doctor) and eat a well-balanced diet – all things that can help with mood. What is a well balanced diet? A diet which includes protein, good fats (for example, eggs, fish, coconut oil), nuts and seeds, fruit (not too much, due to sugar levels in some fruits) and veggies in a range of colours, as well as leafy greens. Here are 13 healthy breakfast ideas guaranteed to give you a great start to the day. The two main foods to cut out in your diet are sugar and grains (which are effectively like sugar in the body). They can impact your mood, anxiety and health and wellbeing.
If these things sound difficult, or you’re already doing them with little relief, please reach out to your midwife or OB/GYN. While intrusive thoughts are unfortunately common, you don’t need to suffer. A referal to an experienced perinatal or postnatal counsellor might be the right support you need.
BellyBelly highly recommends the book, What Mothers Do, Especially When It Looks Like Nothing by Naomi Stadlen. It talks about these anxious thoughts, as well as other honest truths about being a new mother. You'll feel relieved to read that you're not alone.