Sept. 5, 2003 -- "Is my baby going to die from SIDS?" "What if I drown my baby while bathing her?" These are among many obsessive thoughts both men and women have about their newborns. A new study shows that dads worry about the well-being of their babies just about as much as moms do.
A new Mayo Clinic study appearing in the Sept. 3 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings shows 69% of mothers and 58% of fathers report having postpartum obsessive thoughts or worries about their new babies.
The study surveyed 300 childbearing women and their partners, asking them questions about seven subjects including:
- Suffocation or SIDS
- Intentional harm
- Losing the infant
- Unacceptable sexual thoughts
While surveys showed that fathers do obsess about these subjects, it found mothers did so more.
Men and women said they had mild distress from their obsessive thoughts, but mothers reported having more distress than fathers. On average, worrisome thoughts lasted no more than one hour per day. Both parents reported that obsessive thoughts weren't severe enough to interfere with their daily activities.
One more interesting tidbit: Neither mothers or fathers were particularly comfortable describing the content of their intrusive thoughts.
The study shows that it's normal for stressful situations -- such as the birth of a child -- to trigger unwanted intrusive obsessive thoughts among people without psychological disorders.
"Everyone occasionally has thoughts that are contradictory to their moral or ethical beliefs," says researcher Jon Abramowitz, PhD, a Mayo Clinic psychologist. "The difference is that people who develop problems with obsessional thoughts manage those thoughts differently. ... However, people who develop problems tend to believe that thinking the thought means they are bad people who might actually act upon the repulsive thought."
Researchers say there is a big difference between having postpartum obsessive thoughts that will not lead to violence, and psychotic thoughts that may lead to rare the case of a parent harming the child. That difference is having fear of harming the child and being repulsed or afraid at the thought versus parents viewing their thoughts as realistic and rational.
There is a note of caution: Whenever parents have difficulty controlling recurring thoughts of harming their child they should seek professional help.
Overall, researchers hope soon-to-be parents will find that having some postpartum obsessive thoughts about a newborn is fairly normal and, more often than not, the best way to deal with them is to dismiss them.