In a survey mailed to 300 childbearing women and their partners, participants were asked to report distressing thoughts, such as "My baby is going to die from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)" or "What if I drown my baby while bathing her?" Overall, seven categories of thoughts were studied: suffocation or SIDS, accidents, intentional harm, losing the infant, illness, unacceptable sexual thoughts and contamination. Of those who responded, 69 percent of mothers and 58 percent of fathers reported having these types of thoughts.
"Everyone occasionally has thoughts that are contradictory to their moral or ethical beliefs," says Jon Abramowitz, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic psychologist who carried out this study with Katherine Moore, M.D., a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist. "The difference is that people who develop problems with obsessional thoughts manage those thoughts differently. Usually we dismiss disgusting thoughts -- such as pushing our baby out the window -- as something we would never do. However, people who develop problems tend to believe that thinking the thought means they are bad people who might actually act upon the repulsive thought."
The fact that new fathers have intrusive thoughts moves the debate away from previous thinking that this was a female problem brought on by hormonal fluctuations after childbirth.
"Most likely a variety of factors influence a person who has obsessional thoughts," points out Dr. Abramowitz. "How people's brains are hard-wired may play a role, as well as how people are trained as a child to think about themselves or the importance of their thoughts. Stress situations, like the period after a child is born, definitely increase the likelihood that obsessional thoughts will occur."
Contact: Shelly Plutowski