AIM: To prospectively explore the phenomenon of intrusive thoughts in relation to
mood variables such as depression, anxiety and obsessional tendencies in a
community sample of mothers with young infants.
METHOD: Forty-eight mothers were assessed on measures of depression, anxiety and
obsessionality at approximately 35 weeks gestation and then postnatally at 4-6 weeks.
The intrusive thoughts were assessed for content, form, frequency, intensity and
dismissability. The relationships between all dependent variables and the predictive
relationship between the pre and postnatal standardised measures were assessed.
RESULTS: Intrusive thoughts of infant harm were common in this sample and concurred
pre and postnatally. Frequency, intensity and dismissability of the thoughts were all
related. Increases in depression, anxiety or obsessionality postpartum were not
observed. Prenatally, levels of depressive symptoms and state anxiety were both
associated with difficulty in dismissing the thoughts. At postnatal assessment those
who had higher scores on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and the
State/Trait Anxiety Inventory had more frequent thoughts, experienced them more
intensely and had more difficulty in dismissing them. Those participants who
responded to the thoughts experienced more postnatal anxiety and negative emotion.
Prenatal scores on standardised measures were generally predictive of postnatal
scores, young maternal age was also predictive of postnatal EPDS score
DISCUSSION: Pregnancy and childbirth did not significantly raise levels of anxiety,
depression and obsessionality in this community sample. However the experience of
distressing intrusive thoughts of infant harm is common and rarely discussed with
expectant mothers. Methodological strengths and weaknesses are examined, in
particular the lack of a standardisation for measuring intrusive thoughts