Over 80% of new mums experience intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are unwelcome, distressing, and often disturbing mental images or ideas that may pop into one's mind unexpectedly. You don't have to have been diagnosed with postnatal depression or anxiety in order to experience them, though they can be symptoms of these too.
"what if I drop my baby down the stairs? What if there’s a fire and I can’t get to my baby? What if the pram rolls into the road?"
And then so often these evolve into thinking,
"wow, if that’s what I’m thinking about I must not love my baby, what if I’m not meant to be a parent? What if I’ve made a massive mistake?
They can be upsetting and may create feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety.
Becoming a mum can be a difficult transition and often we’re at our most vulnerable. Having these intrusive thoughts can therefore have a much bigger impact on us than they normally would.
Having these intrusive thoughts does not make us bad parents and there are things we can do to reduce them.
How to calm intrusive thoughts
1. Normalise Intrusive Thoughts:
The first step in dealing with intrusive thoughts is to understand that they are a natural occurrence. There are so many reasons why these thoughts occur and it’s likely to be different for everyone. The important thing to remember is that they do not come from a desire to harm your baby and do not reflect our true desires. Normalising these thoughts can help reduce the associated distress and self-blame.
2. Avoid Suppressing Thoughts:
Trying to push away intrusive thoughts often has the opposite effect, making them more persistent. Instead, acknowledge their presence without judgment. Understand that having these thoughts does not define us as a person or a mother. We can gently remind our brains that these thoughts are temporary and will pass. Doing this means having compassion for ourselves. This might be like talking to ourselves as we would a friend…’hey, I hear you, it’s a scary time, there are so many things that are unknown to you right now and we’ll work it out together’.
3. Practice Mindfulness:
You might be tempted to pass straight over this one and I don’t blame you, I would have done before too! Yes, mindfulness techniques can be useful, we could engage in meditation or deep
breathing exercises, however if this is a new technique it can be difficult to start whilst in a dark place. Break it down and start simple by focusing on the present moment. For example, ‘I’m holding my baby, I can feel their weight in my arms, I can hear them breathing, I can see the soft hairs on their head.’ This can redirect your attention away from the intrusive thoughts.
4. Challenge Negative Beliefs:
Intrusive thoughts can be fuelled by negative beliefs about ourselves or motherhood. Challenge these beliefs by questioning their validity. Question if there's evidence supporting these thoughts or if they are merely products of anxiety. Counter negative thoughts with positive affirmations and kind self-talk. For example the thought ‘I’m a bad mum’ could be changed to ‘when I had that thought about dropping my baby down the stairs I gripped them tighter, so I know I’m a good mum’.
5. Seek Support for Postnatal Depression:
Reaching out can be so hard, especially if we think we’re the only one having these thoughts and that we’re not good enough to be a mum. However, chances are if you’re speaking to another mum, she’s been there too.
Reach out to people you feel comfortable with; your partner, friends, or family members for emotional support. Talking about your thoughts with someone you trust can provide relief and reassurance. If intrusive thoughts become overwhelming, consider seeking professional help from a therapist experienced in postnatal issues.
6. Prioritise Self-Care:
Being a new mum can be demanding, but remember that self-care is not selfish; it's essential for your well-being. Make time for activities that bring you joy and relaxation, even if they are short and simple. Engaging in hobbies, taking a short walk, or indulging in a warm bath can provide much-needed relief from intrusive thoughts.
7. Establish a Routine:
Creating a structured routine can help establish a sense of stability and predictability, which can be particularly helpful when coping with intrusive thoughts. Having a schedule for feeding, sleeping, and personal time can provide a sense of control and reduce anxiety.
Intrusive thoughts are a common experience for many new mums, whether you have been diagnosed with postnatal depression or anxiety or whether you're simply (and understandably!) finding it hard.
It's vital to remember that they do not define you as a mother. Be kind to yourself and remember that you are doing your best.
If intrusive thoughts persist or become overwhelming, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Motherhood is a journey filled with ups and downs, and with the right strategies and support, you can find your way through the challenges and embrace the joys of being a new mum.
Counsellor in Harrogate and Online
Claire Judd is a fully qualified counsellor in Harrogate, working with mums with postnatal depression. If you’re struggling, get in touch for a free 15 min call to find out how we can work together. You can book online here: https://www.clairejudd.co.uk/contact and can find out more about counselling for postnatal depression here: www.clairejudd.co.uk.
Follow @therapy.for.mums on instagram for information, tips and advice.