A woman anxiously touchers her forehead

How To Navigate Intrusive Thoughts As A New Parent

Joanne White, Clinical Hypnotherapist at Love Parenthood shares her insight on navigating intrusive thoughts as a new parent. Read on to learn her tips.

I love to plan and organise. I was a primary school teacher so I planned each day out practically to the minute. When I got pregnant it was the perfect project for me to research, plan and prepare. But all the antenatal classes, all the reading, and even the horror stories I picked up about birth didn’t prepare me for intrusive thoughts.

The Start Of Intrusive Thoughts

I had no idea what intrusive thoughts were when I was a new parent, but they arrived swiftly after my baby was born and they haunted me for far too long. The thoughts took the shape of me repeatedly imagining how my baby might get hurt. I’d walk past a window and see him falling. I’d carry him down the stairs and wonder, what if I fell or dropped him? The thoughts would arrive quickly, but wouldn’t leave with the same haste. Once they were there I couldn’t let them go. I had no idea why they were coming. And then the self-deprication started happening: maybe I was a bad mum? Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for parenting? Maybe I wanted these awful things to happen? 

Of course, this was far from the truth. I loved my baby so much and I was a good mum, doing my best to get through those early days. What I learned was that intrusive thoughts can come in many forms. From fear of harm coming to our babies to doubting our own abilities or questioning the intent of those around us. They can be deeply disturbing and often involve us envisioning worst-case scenarios and fears. 

A mum looks out of a window, holding her baby

Intrusive Thoughts Are Common

The most reassuring information I found about these thoughts was that most mothers will experience them at some point postnatally. They’re common, we just don’t talk about them! So if you’re also suffering with intrusive thoughts, you’re not alone. And just because we have the thoughts, doesn’t mean we want to act on them or that what we’re imagining will happen. 

So, what makes intrusive thoughts as a new parent so common? It’s likely to be several factors, including changes in hormones, sleep deprivation, increased anxiety and stress, the overwhelm of adjusting to being a new parent, lack of support and the pressure to be a ‘perfect parent’. Other factors such as a stressful or traumatic birth experience or previous mental health issues such as anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder can also mean that a parent might be more susceptible to intrusive thoughts. 

See also  Emily's Story

Acknowledging Your Thoughts

Our brains tend to turn toward anxiety to try and protect us when we’re stressed or feel under threat. And with a new baby in the house, there’s a high likelihood of stress also being present! Intrusive thoughts are our brains’ way of trying to prepare for any possible threat that may come our baby’s way. Rather than berate ourselves or feel shame when we have these thoughts, compassion can help us to see them for what they are and seek support.

I also learned that focusing on the thoughts, picking them apart and looking for meaning in them was one of the worst things I could do. It led to more intrusive thoughts and way more confusion. Instead I worked on letting the thoughts come and go. Pushing the thoughts away never helped, they’d come back more insistent every time. So I’d let them come, notice them, acknowledge they were nothing but an intrusive thought and then let them go. I would reach for a thought that made me feel better. Sometimes the thought that made me feel better would be one about a supportive person I loved like my mum or my husband. Sometimes it would be a memory of a holiday, sometimes wondering what we should have for dinner!  I’d repeat this process every time an intrusive thought appeared and in time, it helped to take the fear out of them.

Two women smile at a baby

Seeking Support For Intrusive Thoughts As A New Parent

If you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts, spend some time looking at how you can get a little extra support to try and reduce stress and anxiety. Do you need some help around the house? Can someone watch the baby while you sleep? Do you feel lonely and need time to interact with other parents? Tending to our own needs is crucial, but in early parenthood, it’s often something we overlook or forget altogether. If we’re running on empty our brains are much more likely to go to a negative or anxious place. Take the time you need for yourself when you can. 

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Finally please remember that your thoughts are not you, they are simply thoughts. They are not a reflection of your ability to parent or your love for your child. They’re your brain’s response to stress and anxiety. Being a mum is hard work, there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you’re experiencing these thoughts. If you find your thoughts are becoming more distressing, don’t hesitate to talk to someone. Seeking help can make all the difference to your experience as a parent. You deserve to enjoy this time with your little one as much as possible. 

Thanks To Jo – Love Parenthood

I’m Jo a clinical hypnotherapist and psychotherapist. After my son was born I  struggled hugely with anxiety and found that hypnotherapy really helped me. I was so impressed with the impact it had on my life that I left my role as a primary school teacher and set up my own practice.

Now I support other parents to find themselves again, feel confident and enjoy family life. I love that what I do still has an impact on children and helps them get the best start.

I work in person in Peterborough and also see clients online from all over the UK. When I’m not working, my favourite things to do are read, get out in nature or cosy up with a cuppa! 

Read more about Love Parenthood on their website.

A picture of Joanne White who wrote this blog

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This blog was written by a guest author. That means it was either created by an industry expert, medical professional, or someone from within the parenting community. You will be able to find out more information about them within the blog. Thank you so much for popping in to give it your support!