What if I drop the baby? Would my baby be better off without me? What if I drive off the road with the baby?

These thoughts are not what most of us associate with early motherhood, but for many women, they’re a reality. They’re called “intrusive thoughts,” ideas that feel like they are invading your brain. Intrusive thoughts are a common symptom of postpartum depression and anxiety. Surprisingly, over half of new mothers report having them.

To make things simpler, we’ll just call them: scary thoughts. 

What Are Scary Thoughts?

Scary thoughts are images and voices that seem to come out of nowhere. They feel foreign, out of character, and can be very stressful. For new moms, scary thoughts often include accidentally—or intentionally—harming the baby. For example, some mothers report bathing their baby and suddenly thinking, What if I just walked away for a minute? Or even, What would happen if I put her head under the water?

And, the more they try to not think about it, the harder it is to push the thought away.

Why Do Scary Thoughts Happen?

Moms are obviously horrified when they have scary thoughts. You just spent an entire pregnancy dreaming of motherhood and meeting your baby. You love her more than anything on the planet. So, it is very disturbing to suddenly think about your baby being hurt. Especially if you’re the one hurting her.

Most women who experience these have never had them before. Scary thoughts can plow through the mind and pop up at the worst moments. Moms sometimes even feel like they’re “going crazy” and don’t reach out for help because they’re feeling terribly guilty and embarrassed…and even worry that their baby might be taken away from them.

Let’s make one thing very clear: having scary thoughts does not make you a bad—or crazy—mom. However, what it does mean is that you’re having a common symptom of postpartum depression or anxiety. And the fact that you’re horrified by these thoughts is exactly what marks them as what they are: intrusive thoughts, not actual desires. 

What Can I Do About Scary Thoughts?

Although revealing your scary thoughts to your partner or friends can be 1000% daunting, it’s important to take that step. If you’re not ready for that, start by reading about other mothers who have experienced scary thoughts. We particularly loved this article and this one. You can also consider reading books like Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts and Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts: Breaking the Cycle of Unwanted Thoughts in Motherhood.

When you’re ready, tell someone you trust about your thoughts. You can even share books or articles you’ve read with them to give them a deeper understanding—and to solicit support. 

Or, you can call your OBGYN and schedule an appointment to discuss it with an expert. If you prefer, you can discuss it with your partner and then visit a healthcare provider. A professional may help you understand what is happening and how to help yourself return to a normal balance.

Either way, know this: you are not alone. Many mothers experience intrusive thoughts during the postpartum period. It’s scary and it’s lonely and it’s terrible but there is help out there. All you have to do is take the first step. 

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