“The thoughts that enter my mind are so awful! What’s going on?” 5 common categories of intrusive thoughts in motherhood (2023)

Increasing your awareness and understanding of intrusive thoughts is the first step towards starting a new chapter—one where you feel calm and supported.

Intrusive thoughts can have a way of really taking away from your sense of peace and enjoyment in motherhood. These thoughts are the scary, weird, or uncomfortable ideas that pop into your mind for no apparent reason. And if you’re a new mom, you may be having this experience way more frequently than you ever did in the past. If you’re here, it might be because the content that has been entering your mind lately has been surprising or scaring you and you’d like to put your mind at ease. Maybe you’re trying to get a better understanding on how these scary thoughts work… and why they even happen to begin with.

You’re in the right place and by researching this, you’ve already taken a brave step towards healing and becoming the best parent you can possibly be. Increasing your awareness and understanding of intrusive thoughts is the first step towards starting a new chapter—one where you feel calm, supported, and not afraid of what’s going on in your mind.

“The thoughts that enter my mind are so awful! What’s going on?” 5 common categories of intrusive thoughts in motherhood (1)

If you’re reading about intrusive thoughts for the first time (or you’re still getting familiar with this concept) the best starting point is in this blog post where I give the basic 101 of what intrusive thoughts are and why they happen. For context, intrusive thoughts are scary, unwanted, gruesome, or anxiety-provoking thoughts that pop into your mind… even though you really wish they wouldn’t. They can burst into your mind unannounced and cause you to feel worried, disturbed, anxious or as though you’re losing control of the safety and wellbeing of your family.

Even though intrusive thoughts are common among new mothers, so many women suffer in silence, secretly judge themselves, or feel a whole lot of shame. That shame is one of the most common feelings that moms share but guess what? These scary thoughts don’t actually mean anything about you. Our brains can play some pretty weird tricks on us and I hope to reduce this shame by letting you know that a) intrusive thoughts can often be a symptom of anxiety b) they’re super common and c) most moms also have this experience, they just may not be completely open about it. So no, you’re not weird, there’s nothing wrong with you, and you’re not a harm to your family. And hopefully you can try to remember that these thoughts certainly aren’t premonitions.

Not all intrusive thoughts are created equal: some may seem a little kooky or strange whereas others may really cause a lot of distress. Some thoughts are even based on things that are real life stressors, like health concerns, going back to work, or worries about the future. The one thing they all have in common is that they’re unwanted and you wish you didn’t have to think about them.

An important point to consider is that having intrusive thoughts isn’t actually the issue. It’s all about how these thoughts impact you that we’re most concerned about. Do they cause stress, self-questioning, or shame? That’s something to pay attention to.

Sometimes putting words to an experience helps you feel validated and it can normalize something which can feel like a much bigger deal than it is. As you’re reading through the below five categories of intrusive thoughts (with related examples) see which ones you identify with most. Some may not be applicable to your experience but the important take-home is to recognize the different forms that intrusive thoughts may take so that you can begin to be more mindful of them as they occur in your daily life. Here are five common categories which moms experience.

1. You picture your baby or children getting injured or in an accident

Intrusive thoughts under this category often focus on your child or baby getting hurt but they could also center around the safety of you or your partner. You may be just doing normal daily tasks like cooking or going for a walk when suddenly, a really disturbing idea of physical injury just comes into your mind. This one can be especially common in the earliest days and weeks of motherhood when your baby is most vulnerable. Or, it can happen more commonly at certain times of year when perceived threats are higher. (For example, you may catch yourself fearing injuries related to winter sports or road conditions.)

What’s happening here is that you are on high alert trying to stay aware of all potential dangers that could harm your family. You’re in protection mode. Makes sense right? Here’s what intrusive thoughts under this category might sound like:

(Video) Intrusive Thoughts and Overthinking: The Skill of Cognitive Defusion 20/30

What if I drop my newborn baby?

What if the baby drowns in the bath?

What if one of us gets in a car accident?

What if my partner never makes it home from work?

What if my child drowns in the pool/at the beach this summer?

What if the neighbour’s dog attacks my son?

My family is planning a ski trip. What if someone gets hurt?

The stove is so hot. What if my child touches it while I’m not paying attention and burns herself?

2. You imagine circumstances surrounding illnesses or contamination

Guess what? We’ve lived through a pandemic and understandably, our values around health and wellness have been influenced as a result. In working as a therapist supporting mothers through these past few years, I can say with 100% certainty that health anxiety is on the rise.

This is valid. I mean, we have all been affected by COVID in one way or another. Illness and unwanted diagnoses play a much larger role in the conversations we’re having (and they take up more mental energy than ever before). That’s why parents might notice more anxiety around this topic. If this is an area of intrusive thoughts that you struggle with, you might notice yourself checking your kids’ temperatures more often, being hypervigilant about cleanliness, fretting too much about minor health symptoms, or avoiding food contamination at all costs. Here are some fairly common intrusive thoughts that I know cross parents’ minds all the time. How many sound familiar?

What if someone in my family gets COVID?

(Video) What are Intrusive Thoughts? [& When They Signal Pure O OCD]

What if my baby gets RSV?

This condition runs in our family. What if my child gets it?

I heard my child cough. Could it become something serious?

What if the doctor finds something awful and I become unable to care for my kids?

Is my baby breathing? What if she stops breathing during the night and I don’t notice?

I’m worried that the doctor will diagnose him with X. How would I deal with that?

3. You worry about a scenario involving sexual abuse

When I say that intrusive thoughts are not all created equal, I really mean that. Some intrusive thoughts are easier to brush off than others and sadly, one of the categories that causes the most pain for mothers is the one that deals with fears around sexual abuse.

This is a really common category of intrusive thoughts for moms though. If you’re struggling with this one, you may fear that a trusted adult could harm your child or you may notice random thoughts popping into your mind about you inappropriately touching your child or baby. Again, this is your anxious mind assessing threats, worrying, and staying on guard. So no, you’re not weird or a monster. You’re also not alone! So many mothers worry about this stuff even if it doesn’t exactly come up in conversation at a lunch hang out. This is what intrusive thoughts in this category could sound like:

What if I touch my baby inappropriately during bath time or diaper changes?

Why does breastfeeding feel inappropriate?

What if a trusted adult abuses my child and I don’t know about it?

(Video) 8. OCD Treatment: How to stop the thoughts! Part 1

I had my own experiences with sexual abuse. What if the same thing happens to my kid?

4. The images that pop into your mind are violent

Intrusive thoughts often relate to your kids but really, they may focus on any member of the family. Remember, these are completely random thoughts that just show up unannounced. With thoughts relating to violence, you may notice that you’re scared of someone attacking you, your partner, your child or the whole family. That’s a pretty horrible and gruesome thing to sit with.

It can be even harder to allow these thoughts to pass when you’re imagining you being the one to cause harm to one of your loved ones. If it’s any consolation, brains are capable of doing some pretty strange things and our minds work in ways that can be just downright weird or difficult to understand. If this is an area of difficulty for you, try not to lose sight of what’s important here: these thoughts are only thoughts and they don’t indicate anything about you, your intentions, or your ability to be an amazing parent. Here are some examples of what violent intrusive thoughts could look like:

What if I get overwhelmed and shake or throw the baby?

What if I drown my child in the bath?

What if someone breaks in and assaults our family?

What if I go shopping and a shooter attacks me?

What if I accidentally take a kitchen knife and harm somebody?

What if I push my kid down the stairs?

5. You worry about love, attachment, and healthy relationship building

This can be a sneaky category of intrusive thoughts. Unlike, say, imagining jumping off a balcony or throwing your child down the stairs, thoughts regarding the health of your relationships aren’t graphic so they can be more difficult to recognize as intrusive thoughts.

These thinking patterns question your ability to connect with members of your family, form healthy relationships with your children, or show that they’re loved. That can be pretty painful! The problem with these types of intrusive thoughts is that they can give power to your inner critic or cause immense amounts of shame or self esteem issues. Can you catch any of these thoughts as they arise and stop them in their tracks before that happens? Here’s what they may sound like for you:

(Video) What Are Intrusive Thoughts and How Can You Deal with Them

Do I still love my partner?

Do my children and I have a healthy bond?

Do I love my kids enough?

I’m not feeling connected to my baby yet. Is something wrong?

Did I marry the right person?

Does my kid like me?

Intrusive thoughts can really make your experience in motherhood emotionally turbulent. This is one of those areas of motherhood that can feel like something you never saw coming and therefore didn’t prepare for. That’s fair and valid. The most important thing to keep in mind is that these are just symptoms of anxiety and that there’s nothing you did wrong. This is a common experience in motherhood, you didn’t cause this and it’s not your fault you’re dealing with this. If you do feel as though your thoughts are severely impacting your life or creating phobias that didn’t exist before, there’s so much you can do to gain control again.

I have personally experienced intrusive thoughts in motherhood and I’ve supported so many women through this issue as well. That’s why I created my intrusive thoughts workshop.

This is a great resource for those of you who are beginning your research and are looking to a) better understand what’s going on in your mind while b) getting concrete tools to facilitate healing. For less than the cost of a family trip to Starbucks, you can start to redefine how your thought patterns affect you. Check it out here!

“The thoughts that enter my mind are so awful! What’s going on?” 5 common categories of intrusive thoughts in motherhood (2)


What are intrusive thoughts in motherhood? ›

Postpartum intrusive thoughts typically involve infant-related harm. It could be thoughts of something happening to your baby or you doing something intentional to harm your baby. Unwanted thoughts can also appear as visual images in your mind. It's important to know that you're not alone.

What causes intrusive thoughts postpartum? ›

The majority of soon-to-be or new moms experience intrusive thoughts and a study suggests upwards of 70-100% of moms experience them at some point in postpartum. These thoughts could be triggered by hormonal, environmental, or psychological stressors.

Is it normal to have intrusive thoughts pregnant? ›

Intrusive thoughts are quite common for new and expecting parents. Some studies suggest that as many as 90% of new mothers experience unwanted thoughts related to their child during pregnancy or shortly after birth!

Why do I have thoughts of hurting my baby? ›

Normalising intrusive thoughts for concerned parents

Intrusive thoughts or images of causing harm to one's infant are common in the general population. Experiencing the intrusive thoughts makes them no more likely to harm their infant intentionally than any other parent is to harm their own infant intentionally.

What are some examples of intrusive thoughts? ›

Seven common intrusive thought examples
  • The thought of hurting a baby or child. ...
  • Thoughts of doing something violent or illegal. ...
  • Thoughts that cause doubt. ...
  • Unexpected reminders about painful past events. ...
  • Worries about catching germs or a serious illness. ...
  • Concerns about doing something embarrassing. ...
  • Intrusive sexual thoughts.
Apr 11, 2023

What are examples of intrusive thoughts post partum? ›

Common Postpartum Intrusive Thoughts: The baby dying from SIDS. Dropping the baby. Unwanted thoughts of harming the baby.

How do you fight intrusive thoughts? ›

Tips to manage intrusive thoughts
  1. Mindfulness meditation. ...
  2. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) ...
  3. Remember, 'This too shall pass' ...
  4. Visualization techniques. ...
  5. Spend time with a pet. ...
  6. Externalize the thought. ...
  7. Ground yourself in the present. ...
  8. Take a walk in nature.
Apr 11, 2022

What are the psychological changes on the mother during postpartum? ›

During your recovery you may feel tired, overwhelmed, stressed, have feelings of loss of your identity, and have less control over your time. These can also add to the postpartum depression. You may have one or several of these symptoms: nervousness, anxiety, panic, restlessness.

What are postpartum obsessions? ›

Obsessive-compulsive symptoms in the postpartum period often include intrusive thoughts of harming the infant and rituals that result in avoidance of the baby.

Will intrusive thoughts go away after pregnancy? ›

While postpartum intrusive thoughts may not be a sign that you'll actually harm your baby, they are deeply unpleasant. For some women, these thoughts will lead to the development of full-blown postpartum OCD, and require treatment such as therapy and medication. For others, they will simply disappear on their own.

How do I get rid of intrusive thoughts during pregnancy? ›

OK, so how do I deal with intrusive thoughts?
  1. Step 1: Learn About Intrusive Thoughts. The first thing you're going to want to do is educate yourself about intrusive thoughts (which is what you're doing right now). ...
  2. Avoid Making Meaning Out of Your Thoughts. ...
  3. Step 3: Be In The Present.

Why do I get scary intrusive thoughts? ›

Intrusive thoughts are often triggered by stress or anxiety. They may also be a short-term problem brought on by biological factors, such as hormone shifts. For example, a woman might experience an uptick in intrusive thoughts after the birth of a child.

Why do I keep thinking something bad is going to happen to my baby? ›

This is sometimes known as the 'baby blues' and usually only lasts for a few days. Having anxious thoughts and worries now and again are natural, particularly in the early weeks after having a baby. For example, you may worry that something will happen to the baby or that you will do something wrong.

Why do I keep imagining bad things happening to my baby? ›

These thoughts are characteristic of a form of OCD , which is a common mental health condition, that can occur during or after pregnancy, often characterized by the following symptoms: intrusive, uninvited thoughts or images about your child experiencing harm; anxiety about experiencing these thoughts; and thoughts or ...

Do intrusive thoughts mean anything? ›

The presence of unwanted intrusive thoughts does not indicate anything about your character or sanity. In fact , the content of the thoughts are actually meaningless and irrelevant, no matter how compelling. These unwanted thoughts are not fantasies or impulses or urges.

What are bad intrusive thoughts like? ›

Unwanted intrusive thoughts are stuck thoughts that cause great distress. They seem to come from out of nowhere, arrive with a whoosh, and cause a great deal of anxiety. The content of unwanted intrusive thoughts often focuses on sexual or violent or socially unacceptable images.

What are extreme intrusive thoughts? ›

What are intrusive thoughts? Intrusive thoughts seem to come out of nowhere. These thoughts and images are unwanted and often unpleasant. The content can sometimes be aggressive or sexual, or you could suddenly think about a mistake or a worry.

What mental illness causes intrusive thoughts? ›

Intrusive thoughts can be a symptom of anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Can postpartum OCD turn into psychosis? ›

While postpartum OCD can lead to disturbing thoughts and images, it's unrelated to postpartum psychosis (which is also significantly rarer). However, sometimes people can mistake postpartum OCD for postpartum psychosis (or worry their thoughts are a warning sign), which may cause them to feel shame and fear.

Can PPD cause intrusive thoughts? ›

Intrusive thoughts are a common symptom of postpartum depression and anxiety. Surprisingly, over half of new mothers report having them.

What are signs of intrusive thoughts? ›

Symptoms of OCD and Intrusive Thoughts
  • Intense fear of committing a feared action or acting on an undesirable impulse.
  • Fear of contamination (Contamination OCD)
  • Fear of committing a sin or blasphemous behaviors.
  • Constantly doubting one's sexual orientation (hOCD)
  • Fear of harming themselves or others (Harm OCD)

How do you know if your thoughts are intrusive? ›

These thoughts are usually unwanted, unpleasant or even painful. Intrusive thoughts are often repetitive in nature and usually come in the form of mental images or statements said to yourself. These thoughts are normal and most of the time, they come and go without causing us much distress.

What are the 3 psychological stages of the postpartum period? ›

Postpartum Changes
  • Taking-In Phase.
  • Taking Hold Phase.
  • Letting Go Phase.
Apr 22, 2021

What are the three stages of postpartum emotional adjustment? ›

The phases are referred to as the taking-in phase, taking-hold phase, and letting-go phase.

What are 3 manifestation associated with postpartum? ›

Most new moms experience postpartum "baby blues" after childbirth, which commonly include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping.

Can postpartum anxiety turn into psychosis? ›

Postpartum psychosis is a serious mental health illness that can affect someone soon after having a baby. It affects around 1 in 500 mothers after giving birth. Many people who have given birth will experience mild mood changes after having a baby, known as the "baby blues".

Is overthinking part of postpartum? ›

Postpartum anxiety also can occur after women give childbirth. Anxiety symptoms include panic attacks, worrying, poor focus, lack of sleep and overthinking and overprotecting.

What is postpartum psychosis simple? ›

Postpartum psychosis (or puerperal psychosis) is a severe mental illness. It starts suddenly in the days, or weeks, after having a baby. Symptoms vary, and can change rapidly. They can include high mood (mania), depression, confusion, hallucinations and delusions.

How long does it take to mentally recover from pregnancy? ›

While many women feel mostly recovered by 6-8 weeks, it may take longer than this to feel like yourself again. During this time, you may feel as though your body has turned against you. Try not to get frustrated.

Can pregnancy cause weird thoughts? ›

Examples of common perinatal obsessions include: intrusive thoughts about hurting your baby, during or after pregnancy. disturbing thoughts of sexually abusing your child. fear of being responsible for giving a child a serious disease.

How long do intrusive thoughts last? ›

And if your intrusive thoughts are related to a mental health condition, they will likely last as long as you have symptoms. In some cases, fear- or trauma-related intrusive thoughts may never go away completely. But with treatment, you can learn to manage them so they cause much less distress.

Can too much thinking affect pregnancy? ›

High levels of stress that continue for a long time may cause health problems, like high blood pressure and heart disease. During pregnancy, stress can increase the chances of having a baby who is preterm (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or a low-birthweight baby (weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces).

Is it normal to be scared of becoming a mother? ›

It's completely normal to feel nervous about motherhood, especially with so much uncertainty in the world. With all the new experiences that come with pregnancy and preparing for your baby to arrive, new moms have a lot to navigate.

Why won t my intrusive thoughts go away? ›

When intrusive thoughts or obsessions become uncontrollable to the point that they are affecting daily function, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may be the explanation. OCD-intrusive thoughts that occur repeatedly throughout the day are unhealthy and interfere with quality of life.

Are horrible intrusive thoughts normal? ›

Are Invasive Thoughts Normal? Yes! The short answer is “yes.” Intrusive thoughts are just that – thoughts. Even if you are of sound mind and free of any serious mental health issues, it's possible to be struck by intrusive thoughts out of nowhere – and this is not something you should feel too concerned about.

What part of the brain causes intrusive thoughts? ›

01 Intrusive thoughts are caused by misfired signals in the amygdala. 02 According to Dr. Phillipson, intrusive thoughts are a mental disorder, not a mental illness.

Is it normal to think bad things are going to happen? ›

It's natural to worry about bad things happening. When these worries start to take over, remind yourself (kindly) that spending too much time thinking about negative things can prevent you from enjoying the good things in life.

What is Tokophobia? ›

Primary tokophobia is morbid fear of childbirth in a woman, who has had no previous experience of pregnancy. The dread of childbirth may start in adolescence or early adulthood.

What mental disorders cause anxiety? ›

Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), specific phobias and separation anxiety disorder. You can have more than one anxiety disorder. Sometimes anxiety results from a medical condition that needs treatment.

Why do I imagine terrible things? ›

It's also known as "catastrophising," and it happens to many people at some point in their lives. It might be a result of your previous bad experiences that you can't shake, or it could be linked to mental health issues like anxiety or chronic depression.

Why do I keep having horrible visions? ›

It's called a visual hallucination, and it can seem like your mind is playing tricks on you. Beyond being scary or stressful, it's also usually a sign that something else is going on. So if it's happening to you, talk to your doctor. That's the first step toward getting better.

What is it called when you think the worst will happen? ›

Catastrophising is a tendency to assume the worst will happen when imagining a future situation – even if you have evidence that this is not the most likely outcome. People who like to feel in control (and are therefore intolerant of uncertainty) are more likely to catastrophise.

How do you get bad thoughts out of your head? ›

Simple Steps to Stop Negative Thoughts
  1. Pause a Moment. If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or stuck in negative thinking patterns, PAUSE. ...
  2. Notice the Difference. NOTICE the difference between being stuck in your thoughts vs. ...
  3. Label Your Thoughts. ...
  4. Choose Your Intention.
Dec 3, 2022

Why can't I control my thoughts? ›

People who are distressed by recurring, unwanted, and uncontrollable thoughts or who feel driven to repeat specific behaviors may have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The thoughts and behaviors that characterize OCD can interfere with daily life, but treatment can help people manage their symptoms.

Is it normal to have intrusive thoughts about family? ›

Worrying about your kids and family when they are not with you is normal. Still, you might worry and experience intrusive thoughts and images concerning their safety. These can include. Thinking that they have had an accident when you have no real reason to believe this.

Are intrusive thoughts part of baby blues? ›

Postpartum blues

In this kind, the new mother often experiences frequent swings in mood due to ruminating intrusive thoughts. She may also feel tearful, anxious, have a hard time sleeping, and be easily irritated. This usually occurs after the second or third day of giving birth.

What is intrusive parenting in psychology? ›

Abstract. Intrusive parenting has been traditionally considered a negative parenting style and includes actions that are overly directive and controlling of children's behavior. However, current research aims to contextualize this parenting behavior.

What are intrusive thoughts a symptom? ›

They're usually harmless. But if you obsess about them so much that it interrupts your day-to-day life, this can be a sign of an underlying mental health problem. Intrusive thoughts can be a symptom of anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).


1. Two Easily Remembered Questions That Silence Negative Thoughts | Anthony Metivier | TEDxDocklands
(TEDx Talks)
2. Taking Control of Our Thoughts– Dr. Charles Stanley
(In Touch Ministries)
3. Eva Surawy Stepney: The history of intrusive thoughts (Ep378)
(The OCD Stories)
4. How Do You Stop the Mind's Chatter? - Sadhguru
5. How to Remove Negative Thoughts? Sadhguru Jagadish Vasudev Answers
6. Fighting Your Own Thoughts | Sadhguru
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