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Why do new mums have intrusive thoughts? Thoughts from a Postnatal Mental Health Counsellor

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

Postnatal depression - intrusive thoughts. Counselling in Harrogate

For many new mums, intrusive thoughts can be distressing and confusing. In this blog, we will explore the reasons why these thoughts come about. I’m a big believer in knowledge being power. If we know where such thoughts come from we can start to understand

that it’s not from a place of wanting to do harm to your baby and start to ease the impact they have.

1. Hormonal Changes in the Postnatal Period:

After giving birth, you experience significant hormonal fluctuations. These hormonal changes, particularly in estrogen and progesterone levels, can influence mood and emotions, making you more susceptible to intrusive thoughts. The delicate balance of hormones during the postnatal period can amplify feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, triggering intrusive thoughts about the safety and well-being of your baby. When hormones are the main reason you might find that your intrusive thoughts become less intense after the first few weeks.

2. Protective Instincts:

Mum holding baby

New mothers often have an instinctive need to protect their child. This strong sense of protection can inadvertently trigger intrusive thoughts, as the brain explores potential risks and hazards as a way of preparing for safety measures. If you’re a first time mum the unfamiliarity and unpredictability of parenthood can trigger intrusive thoughts related to your baby's well-being. Fear of the unknown and concerns about your ability to provide adequate care can heighten anxiety and give rise to intrusive thoughts.

3. Sleep Deprivation:

Sleep disruption is an inevitable part of new motherhood, with frequent night time awakenings to attend to the baby's needs. Sleep deprivation can impair cognitive function and emotional regulation, making you more vulnerable to intrusive thoughts. Fatigue can intensify feelings of stress and make it challenging to cope with intrusive thoughts effectively. Sleep deprivation has quite literally been used as a form of torture so it’s effects are not to be taken lightly.

4. Perfectionism and Fear of Judgement

Perfectionism and postnatal depression: Mum doing yoga with a baby

New mums can feel an overwhelming pressure to be perfect parents and fear being judged by others. It’s likely this was how you felt prior to having your baby, though it may not have had such a big impact on your life until now. This can often be exacerbated by other mums in baby groups* who feel similar and it may begin to feel like everything is a competition…how much your baby is sleeping, eating, rolling over, sitting up…this fear of not being good enough or making mistakes can trigger intrusive thoughts related to harm coming to the baby. *Baby groups can be a fantastic place for support and to make new friends, this competitive feeling is simply something to be aware of so you know where your thoughts are coming from if it does arise.

5. Traumatic experiences

For some new mums, intrusive thoughts may be linked to past traumatic experiences involving children, your childhood, pregnancy or parenthood. These thoughts may resurface whilst in this vulnerable postnatal period. Some mums also experience a traumatic birth and in the aftermath, when everyone is focused on the arrival of your baby, this can often be missed. It might add to your inability to sleep, make you experience extreme emotions or a numbness. With it can come intrusive thoughts around not having a perfect birth and harm to your baby.

6. Postnatal Mental Health, Depression and Anxiety

If you have a history of depression or anxiety these ay make you more prone to postnatal mental health issues generally or postnatal depression, anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder. These can make your intrusive thoughts more extreme.

Intrusive thoughts are a common experience for new mums and can significantly impact their emotional well-being during the postpartum period. Understanding the underlying reasons why intrusive thoughts affect you can hopefully provide you some reassurance that these thoughts are a normal response to the challenges of motherhood.

It is essential to be gentle with yourself and remember that these thoughts do not define your abilities or love as a parent. Seeking support from loved ones, healthcare professionals, or a counsellor can be beneficial in coping with intrusive thoughts and managing postnatal meant health.


Claire Judd Counsellor in Harrogate for Postnatal Depression

Counsellor in Harrogate and Online

Claire Judd is a fully qualified counsellor in Harrogate, working with mums on their postnatal mental health. 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: and can find out more about counselling for postnatal depression here:

Follow @therapy.for.mums on instagram for information, tips and advice.

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