13:00 - 14:00
The vast majority, if not all, new mothers report unwanted, intrusive thoughts of accidental harm befalling their infant. More impressively, half of all new mothers also report unwanted, intrusive thoughts of hurting their infant on purpose, even though they care deeply for their infant and have no desire to cause harm. Among psychologically vulnerable women, these unwanted, intrusive thoughts of infant-related harm can lead to the development of an anxiety-related condition, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Frequently, perinatal care providers react very strongly when new mothers disclose that they are experience unwanted, intrusive thoughts of infant-related harm, especially thoughts of intentional harm. Their reactions can include monitoring the mother for evidence of child abuse and even removing the infant from their care. This occurs despite the fact that there is no evidence that OCD sufferers are at risk of behaving violently or of acting on the content of their unwanted, intrusive thoughts. The purpose of this research was to follow-up on our pilot study (N = 100) in which 100% of new mothers reported unwanted, intrusive thoughts of accidental harm related to their infant and slightly less than half reported unwanted, intrusive thoughts of harming their infant on purpose. In this pilot work we also found no relationship between unwanted, intrusive thoughts of hurting one's infant on purpose and actual aggression towards the infant. In the new study, we sought to answer these same questions in a much larger sample. Specifically, we sought to answer the following questions: 1) How common are new mothers' unwanted, intrusive thoughts of infant-related accidental and intentional harm? 2) How common is OCD among pregnant and postpartum women? 3) Are new mothers' who report unwanted, intrusive thoughts of hurting their baby on purpose more likely to also report harming their infant compared with mothers who do not report these thoughts? A total of 763 English-speaking women participated in this research. Women were recruited proportionally from hospitals, city centers and rural communities across British Columbia between January 23, 2014 and September 09, 2016. They were administered online questionnaires and a diagnostic interview (by phone) at approximately 33-weeks gestation, and 7-weeks and 4-months postpartum. The study assessed intrusive and unwanted thoughts of harm related to the infant, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and maternal aggression towards the infant. Our preliminary findings are as follows: 1) One hundred percent of the new mothers in this study reported unwanted, intrusive thoughts of accidentally harm coming to their infant, and a full 50% reported unwanted, intrusive thoughts of hurting their infant on purpose. 2) We found no relationship between unwanted, intrusive thoughts of intentional, infant-related harm and child harming behaviours. 3) OCD among pregnant and postpartum women is more common than previously thought. In order to answer the study questions, some complex research methodology was required. This was particularly true for our assessment of child harming behaviours. The methodology we used was highly effective and may be of benefit to other scientists studying parental aggression towards children. These methods will be discussed in full.
Keywords: Postpartum harm thoughts, Obsessive-compulsive disorder, Child harm