The birth of a baby is a time of celebration and joy. However, most parents of newborns experience significant anxiety mixed with their happiness. They worry about the health and safety of their infants and all of the responsibilities of being a parent. In fact, these worries can become overwhelming and even obsessional.

Obsessions are frequent, disturbing, attention grabbing, unwanted thoughts that seem to pop into the mind uninvited. People work like crazy to rid themselves of obsessional thoughts, but usually fail trying.

A study at the Mayo Clinic found that most parents have uncontrolled, disturbing thoughts shortly following the birth of a baby. Many of them worry about the possibility of actually harming their infants through neglect or even hurting the babies intentionally. Professionals don’t consider the phenomenon to be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) because it’s almost always temporary. Nevertheless, some of these thoughts can seem pretty weird. A few examples:

  • What if I am sexually attracted to my baby?
  • What if I drop my baby?
  • What if get so mad that I hurt my baby?

We told you that these thoughts might sound a little bizarre. However, researchers have found that, although upsetting, such thoughts are perfectly normal and generally go away in a matter of weeks. The sleepless nights and stress of having a major new responsibility provide fuel for these thoughts. For women, fluctuations in hormones are thought to be possible contributors to this common phenomenon. You might be surprised to know that problems with such obsessional thoughts are more frequent than postpartum depression.

A new study is being conducted by Jonathan Abramowitz, Ph.D and colleagues at the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at the University of North Carolina, College of Arts and Sciences. Abramowitz describes perinatal anxiety, a disorder which includes uncontrollable worries during pregnancy and shortly after the birth of a child. These parents not only worry excessively, but sometimes also have panic attacks. A few are stressed to the point that they have trouble caring for their babies. Interestingly, the investigators do not make a sharp distinction between what they call perinatal anxiety and the OCD-like thoughts that normally occur shortly after a new birth.

A study is being conducted to see whether a brief treatment utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) will prevent new parents from experiencing perinatal anxiety. CBT has been found to be effective in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and OCD. We’ll let you know when the results come out.