Bringing a new baby into the world opens you up to a great deal of new experiences - including new stress, worry, and anxiety. Is she supposed to breathe like that when she has a cold? Will she overheat in that set of fuzzy pajamas? And how much spit-up is too much spit-up? Most new parents have a laundry list of the things they worry about each and every day. And a lot of this is because it’s completely normal to wonder, “Hey, is this normal?” when you're a new parent. When Baby has her first bad cold or diaper rash or sleep regression, you’ve never dealt with something like that before. It’s all entirely new, and as a result, it can be confusing, and can make you nervous about doing things right and caring for your little one in the best possible way.
So some degree of worry and concern is normal. But when this sort of stress snowballs into something more extreme - not just worry, but major anxiety or fear or recurring, invasive, and altogether scary thoughts - it is something you should seek help for.
Again, all parents experience some degree of worry, but sometimes these worries can be particularly scary, including imagining worst case scenarios or extremely tragic outcomes - like a parent worrying about their child drowning every time they go to give the child a bath, fearing that when a child goes to sleep they may suffocate and not wake up, or having visions of their child falling every time they carry their child down a staircase.
And if these sort of scary thoughts are recurring, oppressive, and feel constant - the sort of thoughts that feel impossible to put out of mind or simply wish away - then these sort of thoughts are called invasive thoughts. Many parents feel disgusted or ashamed that these thoughts are even crossing their minds. And it can be particularly painful when a parent worries that because they are thinking these things, it means they might hurt their child. This fear can then, in turn, cause even more worry, anxiety, and suffering.
These sort of thoughts could be a sign of postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, or postpartum psychosis. Often these thoughts are anxious in nature, not delusional, and even if they involve particularly dark images, it doesn’t mean that a parent will hurt their child. If you’re experiencing these sort of thoughts, one thing is clear - they do not make you a bad parent.
If you’re experiencing invasive thoughts, or if scary thoughts are making it hard for you to care for yourself, hard for you to care for your baby, or hard for you to complete everyday tasks, reach out to your healthcare provider right away. Even if you’re just wondering what sort of scary thoughts are normal for a new parent to have, do reach out to them for guidance. There are a number of different ways that healthcare providers can assist you, and it’s much easier to get through these challenges when you have help and support.
If you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, you should seek help from a medical professional and/or loved one to help take care of you and your baby. If you feel as if you will act on these thoughts, you should seek immediate help which can including contacting 911 or your local emergency assistance number.
Experiencing such scary thoughts can feel, well, downright scary. But you have nothing to be ashamed of. So if you think your thoughts have moved beyond the realm of normal worries into something more serious, reach out for help.