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Original Research

Postpartum Thoughts of Infant-Related Harm and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Relation to Maternal Physical Aggression Toward the Infant

Nichole Fairbrother, PhDa,*; Fanie Collardeau, MScb; Sheila R. Woody, PhDc; David A. Wolfe, PhDd; and Jonathan M. Fawcett, PhDe

Published: March 1, 2022


Objective: Unwanted intrusive thoughts (UITs) of intentional infant-related harm are ubiquitous among new mothers and frequently raise concerns about infant safety. The purpose of this research was to assess the relation of new mothers’ UITs of intentional, infant-related harm and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) with maternal aggression toward the infant and to document the prevalence of maternal aggression toward the infant.

Methods: From a prospective, province-wide, unselected sample of 763 English-speaking postpartum women, a total of 388 participants provided data for this portion of the research. Participants completed 2 questionnaires and interviews postpartum to assess UITs of infant-related harm, OCD (based on DSM-5 criteria), and maternal aggression toward the infant. Data for this research were collected from February 9, 2014, to February 14, 2017.

Results: Overall, few participants (2.9%; 95% CI, 1.5% to 4.7%) reported behaving aggressively toward their infant. Participants who reported UITs of intentional, infant-related harm (44.4%; 95% CI, 39.2% to 49.7%) were not more likely to report aggression toward their newborn compared with women who did not report this ideation (2.6%; 95% CI, 0.9% to 5.8%; and 3.1%; 95% CI, 1.3% to 6.2%, respectively). The same was true for women with and without OCD (1.9%; 95% CI, 0.3% to 6.4%; and 3.5%; 95% CI, 1.8% to 6.0%), respectively.

Conclusions: This study found no evidence that the occurrence of either UITs of intentional, infant-related harm or OCD is associated with an increased risk of infant harm. The prevalence of child abuse of infants in this sample (2.9%) is lower than reported in others (4%–9%). Findings provide critical and reassuring information regarding the relation between new mothers’ UITs of intentional harm and risk of physical violence toward the infant.

Volume: 83

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