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Fears about harming a baby

6 min read
Sara Anderson, LPC

By Sara Anderson, LPC

Reviewed by Patrick McGrath, PhD

Sep 2, 2022

Possibly related to:

What is baby harm OCD

If you’re experiencing repetitive, unwanted thoughts about harming a baby either intentionally or accidentally, it may be a result of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Fears of harming a baby fall under the category of Harm OCD. Individuals may experience fears related to hurting infants or toddlers in some way, whether physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional. Individuals with these fears may often worry that they could unintentionally touch an infant/toddler inappropriately, say something inappropriate, accidentally physically harm an infant/toddler, lose control and harm an infant/toddler intentionally, or cause significant impairment to the toddler/infant emotionally or psychologically. 

Those who struggle with OCD fear of harming babies will often avoid any and all types of interactions with infants/toddlers in an effort to neutralize or reduce anxious feelings that come from their thoughts or fears. Some people may even reduce and/or eliminate interactions out of fear of perceived risks for themselves or others. For example, a person might think, “If I somehow accidentally bump into a toddler and they fall down and get a bruise, I could go to jail” or, “What if I get arrested for accidentally brushing up against a child and it is seen as inappropriate?” 

This particular theme can be a difficult one to talk about for a lot of people. They may fear potential judgment from others, and maybe even worry that these thoughts could mean that they are potentially capable of causing intentional harm to an infant/child. It is important to note that OCD often attacks personal values that are especially important, and demands the performance of compulsive behaviors as a way of affirming or proving one’s true values. In other words, OCD tries to convince you that unless you can provide 100% certainty that a feared outcome will not happen, then it will happen.
  

Baby harm OCD – Common Obsessions

  • What if I physically harm a baby?
  • What if I sexually harm a baby?
  • What if I emotionally harm a baby?
  • What if I psychologically harm a baby?
  • Am I a bad person?
  • Am I a pedophile?
  • Can I be trusted around babies?
  • What if I harmed a child in the past?
  • Will I ever be able to have my own children?
  • What if I lose control and harm a child?

Common triggers

People with OCD fear of harming babies might be triggered by a variation of situations that involve any interaction with children—specifically toddlers and infants. Individuals may even be hesitant to be near locations where toddlers and infants may be present, including playgrounds, day care centers, public events, family events, and even public parks or restaurants.

Individuals may even have difficulty seeing pictures and videos of toddlers or infants out of fear of triggering intrusive thoughts about harming babies. Moreover, even talking or reading about infants and toddlers could trigger these obsessions. Individuals may even be hesitant or avoidant to spend time with toddlers and infants who are close to them, including their own children, relatives, or students, in an effort to reduce anxiety and perceived risks of accidental harm.

Triggers for people with fear of harming babies:

  • Family events with children present
  • Restaurants where children are present
  • Parks, playgrounds, or schools
  • Changing diapers, feeding babies, playing with toddlers/babies
  • Caring for an infant/toddler
  • Pictures or videos of infants/toddlers

This list is not comprehensive or exhaustive. For each person, the situations that could trigger their obsessions could be different.

How do I know it’s Harm OCD, and not anxiety or appropriate caution

Intrusive thoughts of harm toward an infant and/or toddler can be scary. It might be instinctive for someone to do everything in their power to ensure that worst-case scenarios don’t come true, no matter how small the possibility. 

This can lead a person to actively avoid situations or interactions with children altogether. Sometimes people who struggle with Baby Harm OCD will wonder “How do I know for sure that I won’t actually harm a child? How do I know this won’t really happen? What if I secretly want to harm a baby and I am just lying to myself?” and so on. 

OCD demands certainty that feared outcomes won’t happen in order to ensure that they won’t, and people engage in compulsions and safety-seeking behaviors, like avoidance, seeking reassurance, checking, or rumination, as a result. 

So how can you really know if you’re experiencing OCD and not something else? The presentation of your thoughts and how you respond to them are key. If thoughts are intrusive or unwanted, and they create discomfort—especially anxious discomfort—and there is a need to neutralize, escape, or otherwise “fix” the thought and anxiety, it is most likely OCD, no matter the content of the thoughts. One might also notice that the intrusive thoughts go completely against firmly moral values—OCD is notorious for attacking our belief systems and creating doubt in the important areas of our lives. 

Common compulsions

When people with OCD fear of baby harm experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings or urges that cause distress, they may actively avoid situations that involve children, avoid watching videos or looking at images with babies and toddlers in them, avoid family gatherings where they know they may interact with children, avoid parks/playgrounds out of fear of interaction with children, and other similar compulsive behaviors.

Individuals may also find themselves seeking reassurance from others or themselves, or by researching similar scenarios to establish some type of certainty that they will not inflict harm on a baby or toddler. People who struggle with this type of OCD theme may ruminate about their intrusive thoughts, questioning their own thoughts and trying to answer or resolve their doubts and worries. Many times, these questions are unanswerable and are impossible to resolve. 

Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with baby harm OCD include:

  • Seeking reassurance from themselves or others
  • Researching/Googling their scenarios
  • Avoiding all possible situations that could trigger intrusive thoughts
  • Avoiding any scenario where they could come into contact with infants or toddlers
  • Rumination on their thoughts in an attempt to resolve their anxiety

How to treat OCD fears about harming a baby

Baby harm fears can be debilitating for people who struggle with them, but they are highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the individual will not only learn more about intrusive thoughts and why they experience anxiety the way they do, but they will develop a treatment plan that will help them learn a healthier way of responding to these thoughts and feelings of anxiety. 

When we respond to obsessive thoughts with compulsions, we reinforce the idea that these thoughts are dangerous and need to be neutralized or avoided. In reality, intrusive thoughts are nothing more than thoughts. The presence of unwanted thoughts does not determine anything about one’s actions, motivations, values, or identity. 

By eliminating compulsions as a response to anxiety, you can provide yourself the opportunity to learn a new method of responding to unwanted thoughts, which allows you to realize that they will pass on their own, without any further meaning or consequence. With this realization comes a reduction in anxiety and, over time, a reduction in compulsive behaviors. 

A reduction in anxiety creates space for the things that are more important in your life: your interests, hobbies, relationships, and responsibilities. If you are struggling with intrusive thoughts related to harm, or you suspect you may suffer from Harm OCD related to hurting babies, please reach out to a professional who is trained in treating OCD for help. 

If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.

We look forward to working with you.