Distressing Thoughts of Harming Baby Is Normal in Postpartum Depression

According to a study, many new mothers have intrusive and unwanted thoughts about harming their babies intentionally, but those thoughts don’t seem to increase the chances that they will actually harm the baby.1✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
DOI: 10.4088/JCP.21m14006

The researchers remark that such thoughts need to be discussed with a new mother as a normal, although unpleasant and potentially distressing, postpartum experience. Without any other risk factors, they don’t however represent a risk to the safety of the baby.

The research was a large-scale study to examine the connection between maternal aggression towards the baby and postpartum-occurring obsessive-compulsive disorder confirming results from a previous pilot study.

According to the researchers, when the thoughts are intrusive and unwanted, the mother is no more at risk of hurting their baby compared to the women who just reported thoughts of accidental harm, because those thoughts are actually normal and often happen.

Even though a mother’s intrusive, unwanted thoughts of harming her baby on purpose don’t seem to be linked to an increase in the risk of harming the baby, there’s evidence that these types of thoughts could result in the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder among vulnerable women.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a condition related to anxiety characterized by intrusive, unwanted, and distressing thoughts recurring. If not treated, it can interfere with relationships, parenting, and daily life.

Recognizing the difference between perfectly normal thoughts as opposed to thoughts that might suggest required treatment, and thoughts that might indicate a threat to the baby can encourage improved communication between healthcare professionals and new mothers throughout a difficult time.

A total of 388 postpartum participants from 763 surveyed provided data by way of interviews and questionnaires to evaluate “intrusive, unwanted thoughts” of harm related to infants, maternal aggression towards the baby, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Of the 151 women who had reported having intrusive, unwanted intentional harm thoughts, only 4 reported aggressive behavior towards their baby, which resulted in an estimated prevalence of 2.6% in comparison to 3.1% in women who didn’t report this behavior. This means that there was less than a 1% difference between the 2 groups.

Postpartum Depression Infographic

Image Source – larkr