Scary and intrusive thoughts are a common symptom of postpartum depression.
Intrusive thoughts lead many women to believe that they are terrible people, unfit mothers or a danger to their children. While many women experience them in some form, they don’t always recognize that they are intrusive or involuntary. Instead, they believe that the thoughts are how they truly feel, or what they are thinking subconsciously. They don’t talk about them for fear of what others will think of them.
It’s important to speak up about intrusive thoughts, but before a woman can do that – she needs to understand what they are, where they come from and what they mean. This is the only way she will be able to accept that the thoughts she is having are not who she has become, but rather, a side effect of her mental illness.
Here is some more information about intrusive thoughts.
What are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are an idea or image that come to your mind involuntarily. The thoughts may be extremely out-of-character and can be shocking when they happen. They are almost exactly the same as the thoughts and images that you normally have, except that they are not created nor welcomed by you. Intrusive thoughts are a sign of mental illness and prove that your mind is playing tricks on you.
What are NOT Intrusive Thoughts?
- They are not hallucinations
- They are not third party voices in your head
- They are not an indication of postpartum psychosis
- They are not subconscious thoughts or images
- They are not part of your normal train of thought
- They are not how you truly feel deep down inside
Types of Intrusive Thoughts
The most common type of postpartum intrusive thoughts are of doing something bad to the baby. They can be “what if…” type of thoughts such as “what if I drop my baby down the stairs” or “what if I stab my baby with a knife.” They can also come in the form of intrusive images such as watching the baby drown in the bathtub or crashing the car with the baby in the backseat.
Intrusive thoughts can also be about harming yourself. Many women experience suicidal thoughts but have no actual desire to commit suicide. Postpartum depression can cause women to experience thoughts of running away, jumping out of a moving car or falling asleep and never waking up again. Intrusive thoughts often make a woman believe she is unfit to be a mother and that her children would be better off without her.
Another type of intrusive thought includes harming a spouse or another loved one. It’s normal to complain about the annoying things a spouse does and imagine doing something bad to them, but when it affects your relationship or comes out of nowhere it could be an intrusive thought. Postpartum depression, and especially postpartum rage, are often misdirected towards spouses and partners – making a woman believe that she really does hate her husband. Add in intrusive thoughts like running them over with the car and it’s a relationship nightmare…
Some intrusive thoughts are inappropriate and violent. Many can be sexual in nature or include things like harming animals, behaving violently or setting the house on fire.
Basically, any thought or image that enters your head that feels scary and unnatural is considered an intrusive thought.
The Danger of Intrusive Thoughts
Thoughts and images alone are not dangerous. But intrusive thoughts can cause several unwanted side effects that can become dangerous both physically and mentally.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Intrusive thoughts can cause a woman to develop postpartum OCD and become obsessed with certain thoughts and images. If she imagines the baby dying in their sleep, she may stop sleeping in order to check on baby several times through the night.
Stress and Anxiety. Knowing that intrusive thoughts are a possibility is a big source of stress and anxiety, which can worsen symptoms of postpartum depression. Intrusive thoughts can also cause panic attacks and other physical symptoms.
Acting on Intrusive Thoughts. It’s rare that a woman would go so far as to act on her intrusive thoughts but the danger that she might still exists. Being unable to recognize the difference between intrusive thoughts and reality can signal something worse (like postpartum psychosis). If you feel a strong urge to act on your intrusive thoughts, make sure to speak to your doctor immediately.
Stigmatizing. Intrusive thoughts play a major role in the stigma of postpartum depression. Many mothers who try to open up about them are treated like crazy people or seen as dangerous and suicidal. If intrusive thoughts are confessed to someone without enough knowledge about them (even a medical professional), the consequences could be devastating. Its important to find a safe place to discuss intrusive thoughts.
The Truth About Intrusive Thoughts
The truth is, they are not real. They may stem from the feelings of inadequacy or overwhelm caused by postpartum depression but they are not part of the subconscious mind. They are a figment of your imagination and a by-product of mental illness. In order to eliminate them, and avoid having them control your life, you need to accept that they are coming from somewhere else, and not from what’s within your heart.
How to Get Rid of Them
As long as a woman is suffering from a mental illness, the intrusive thoughts will always be a possibility. So the only way to eliminate them altogether is to treat the underlying condition. There are still several things a person can do to keep intrusive thoughts from affecting their lives.
Document Them. Writing down scary thoughts as they happen can help make them less frightening. You can write them on paper, in a journal or workbook, on your phone or use an app. If you really want to take a stand and connect with other women who are having them, you could even consider blogging about them.
Release Them. Intrusive thoughts are perhaps one of the hardest things to speak out loud when battling postpartum depression. Many people are not nearly as informed about intrusive thoughts as they should be, and this makes talking openly about them risky. The best place to express the scary thoughts you’re having is to find a safe and positive space, such as a support group. The Postpartum Stress Center offers a safe place online for women to anonymously #SpeaktheSecret. It helps to read some of the thoughts other women have had, and even submit your own to release them from your mind.
Online Therapy. Speaking to a mental health professional is always a good course of action for women battling intrusive thoughts. With online therapy, you have the option to chat with your therapist anytime throughout the day, as opposed to waiting for a scheduled appointment. This is a great option to be able to discuss scary thoughts as they occur. (If this is an option you’d like to explore, try online therapy using my affiliate link: https://runningintriangles.com/OnlineTherapy).
Meditation. Clearing the mind on a daily basis can help reduce the instances of intrusive thoughts. Meditation can also help to create mindfulness in general, making you feel a little bit more in control of the thoughts and images in your own head. Meditation, either alone or while doing yoga, should become an important part of your self-care routine for battling postpartum depression and intrusive thoughts.
Positive Imagery. Surround yourself with sights that make you feel happy. You can put together a photo album of some of your happiest photos and look at it regularly. Or keep flowers and plants in your home. Hang motivational posters or family photos on the walls. Subconsciously, your mind will soak up all the beauty around you and be a happier place.
Get Enough Sleep. Sleep deprivation is known for causing all kinds of problems in new mothers. A lack of sleep is like leaving the door wide open for scary thoughts. Try changing around your bedtime routine, invest in a better mattress or look into other ways to fight off insomnia.
Distraction. Keeping the mind distracted will allow less time for scary thoughts to creep in. Music is an excellent way to keep the mind distracted. Try playing music in the background while you’re home, call or visit with a friend, read a book or put on the television. Maintaining a proper self-care routine can also help keep intrusive thoughts away.
The most important factor in dealing with intrusive thoughts is to know the difference between your actual thoughts and the unwanted ones.
Having frightening thoughts may make you feel like a bad mother with the potential to do something harmful but it’s not the truth. Focus on the positive thoughts and try your best to ignore the ones that make you feel anything but joy. Accept that they are a side effect of postpartum depression and not who you have become. It may take a while for the thoughts and images to go away, but as long as you remember that you are still you inside, you can defeat them.
Many women are afraid of suffering from postpartum depression after the birth of a child, but none more than a mother who has already experienced it before.
It goes without saying that any mother who has suffered from postpartum depression would never willingly want to put themselves through that kind of torture again. But while the idea of having another baby after postpartum depression feels like a suicide mission, a significant amount of women go on to have more children after being diagnosed.
This means that, while it might seem preposterous at the time, there is hope for a full and bright future filled with all the children we dreamed of having.
Here is my best advice for how to prepare for another baby after you’ve suffered from postpartum depression.
If you don’t already have a treatment plan for your postpartum depression, then establishing one is the first step. Once your treatment plan is in place, don’t deviate from it – even if you start to feel better.
If you never initially sought treatment for your postpartum depression but feel like it is under control – it is still worth seeing a doctor, therapist, counselor or other health professional to discuss your options should you experience a relapse of symptoms.
Better Help can help you find a therapist near you. Visit: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/therapy/how-do-i-find-a-therapist-near-me/
Is your treatment plan safe for pregnancy and/or breastfeeding?
Many women avoid pharmaceutical treatments because they want to continue breastfeeding (myself included) and most women avoid pharmaceuticals during pregnancy due to the lack of testing.
So if your normal treatment plan includes anti-depressants then you may need to create a back-up plan.
There are many other safe and natural treatment options available can help to reduce some of the guilt that so often affects mothers who give up breastfeeding in order to take anti-depressants. Online therapy is a great option to consider if you’re unable to use medication to treat your postpartum depression.
Make sure to talk to your doctor about your current medications if you are planning to have another baby.
In the post How to Avoid a Postpartum Depression Relapse I list off some common triggers and how they cause symptoms to reappear long after treatment has begun.
Before adding a new baby to the family, it’s worth considering what triggers your postpartum depression symptoms and trying your best to eliminate them ahead of time. Tracking your mood fluctuations can help you identify specific patterns and triggers.
Financial or marital problems should be worked out in order to avoid added stress. Illnesses, chronic pain, nutrient deficiencies and the overall state of your health should be addressed. Practicing yoga and meditation can be a great way to get in better physical and mental health prior to having another baby.
While many triggers will be unavoidable, if you can be in good physical shape and proper mental health prior to getting pregnant again, then you will be more prepared should postpartum depression strike again.
Document Your Feelings
Writing down everything you’ve gone through can help you to remember what your experience was like at a later date. Sometimes the things we feel in the heat in the moment can easily be sorted out when our mind is clearer.
If you wrote down any of your thoughts or feelings in a journal of some sort during your first round of postpartum depression, then you should take some time to re-read those entries prior to have another baby and see if they give you some insight.
If you do end up struggling with postpartum depression again after another baby, then document your feelings again so that you can compare both experiences and see if there is a common factor or trigger that you can work on.
download A free printable PDF to help you document your journey
I know, I know, I’m always talking about how women need to speak up about postpartum depression… but it really makes all the difference!
There are so many reasons why we keep silent about postpartum depression but if we stand any chance of defeating it and avoiding it again, then people need to KNOW about it.
The more we talk about it, the less taboo it becomes. We need to stop living in the shadow of postpartum depression – it’s the only way we can eliminate it’s power over us.
If you’re thinking about having another baby after postpartum depression, then everyone in your life should already know about your previous battle with postpartum depression. It shouldn’t be a shameful secret, but rather a badge of honor.
In addition to your loved ones, your doctor or midwife should know that you suffered from postpartum depression with a previous baby if they don’t already.
Knowing that you have a support system already in place in the event that you suffer the same unfortunate fate again, will help you to prepare for having another baby after postpartum depression.
Make Sure You’re Ready
Why do you want another baby? Is it because you’ve always dreamed of having more? Do you feel like you need to provide a sibling for your child to grow up with? Does your spouse or partner want another baby? Do you feel your biological clock ticking?
I’m not saying that any of these reasons are wrong reasons to have a child, as long as it’s what you really want.
If you feel pressured in any way to have another baby, it might be time to do a little soul searching and think carefully if the time is right.
I can give you thousands of tips on how to prepare for another baby after postpartum depression, but unless you are ready – none of them will help.
Become a Warrior
Speaking up is only the first step to battling postpartum depression. If it has affected your life – don’t let it get away so easily. The best way to fight against postpartum depression is to take a stand and help destroy the stigma that surrounds it.
- Research postpartum depression and other maternal mental health conditions
- Donate to Postpartum Support International
- Participate in this free Postpartum Depression Research Study to help determine the genetic link.
- Join postpartum depression support groups on Facebook or an online forum
- Tell your postpartum depression story
- Start your own mental health blog
- Sign up for the Postpartum Depression Survival Guide
The more you know about, and are involved with the postpartum depression community, the better you will be at defeating at.
The truth is, if you’ve suffered from postpartum depression before, the chances of suffering from it again are high. While you may not be able to avoid postpartum depression the second time around, being prepared and educated will help you handle the symptoms and know when and where to turn for help.