The Basics of Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is not unlike OCD that anyone else may experience; however, its symptoms involve the mother’s thoughts and behaviors specifically towards or about her newborn.
Though the recorded rate of postpartum OCD is relatively low, it is a very serious condition that should be diagnosed as early as possible. There are plenty of treatment options available for postpartum OCD so that women do not have to continue to suffer from this condition.
What is Postpartum OCD?
Postpartum OCD is a type of postpartum anxiety disorder. It is characterized by intrusive thoughts and behaviors that are in response to a perceived danger toward their baby. These thoughts and behaviors are constant and repetitive, and they can severely disrupt daily life. Postpartum OCD is a severe condition that requires treatment in order to manage and control symptoms.
Women with postpartum OCD are aware of their intrusive thoughts but they cannot control them. Instead, the thoughts cause counteractive behaviors and other symptoms as well.
Who Does Postpartum OCD Affect?
Postpartum OCD affects anywhere between 3 to 5 percent of women after giving birth. New fathers have also been known to exhibit signs of postpartum OCD. Though not common like postpartum blues, postpartum OCD is likely underdiagnosed. This is due to the embarrassment and shame that women with postpartum OCD feel and the fears they will lose their baby if they speak up. Therefore, many women don’t come forward about their OCD symptoms after giving birth and suffer in silence.
Additionally, postpartum OCD symptoms are often confused with anxiety or depression, so it is often misdiagnosed. There is also limited awareness about postpartum OCD as its own unique condition. This lack of awareness prevents reporting and diagnoses.
Postpartum OCD Causes and Risk Factors
Like most mental health conditions, there is no one exact cause of postpartum OCD. Its onset has a lot to do with the woman’s mental health history and other elements in her life.
Sudden and drastic decreases in hormones after giving birth may contribute to certain postpartum OCD symptoms. These changes, combined with chronic fatigue and overwhelming feelings as they care for the new baby, can lead many women to develop severe anxiety that evolves into OCD.
Here are some possible risk factors of developing postpartum OCD:
- A history of OCD at other times in life
- Unmet expectations regarding motherhood that cause negative thoughts and self-doubt
Many women who had ongoing OCD before childbirth find that having a baby worsens their symptoms, as a new baby provides more uncertainties and responsibilities that can aggravate intrusive and anxious thoughts.
Postpartum OCD in men doesn’t share the same biological causes as postpartum OCD in women. Therefore, it is believed that a big contributing factor to developing postpartum OCD is the natural fear and anxiety that comes with the pressure and responsibility of caring for an infant.
Postpartum OCD Symptoms
Postpartum OCD symptoms include a combination of obsessions and compulsions. These manifest as thoughts and behaviors.
Here are some of the common obsessions mothers with postpartum OCD will experience:
- Unwanted images of hurting the baby such as dropping or throwing him/her
- Concerns about accidentally causing the baby harm through carelessness
- Intrusive and unwanted thoughts of suffocating or stabbing the baby
- Unwanted and disturbing thoughts of sexually abusing the baby
- Scared of making poor decisions that will cause the baby harm or death
- Fear that the baby will develop a serious disease
- Fear of exposing the baby to toxins and chemicals and other environmental pollutants
It’s important to note that mothers who suffer from postpartum OCD are hyper-vigilant and sensitive to anything that may be related to child abuse, whether is physical, sexual or otherwise.
Here are some of the common compulsions experienced by those with postpartum OCD:
- Getting rid of sharp objects such as knives or scissors
- Not feeding the baby out of fear of poisoning him/her
- Not changing diapers out of fear of sexually abusing the baby
- Not consuming certain foods or medications out of fear of harming the baby
- Deliberately avoiding watching or reading the news when it involves child abuse
- Continuously monitoring self when it comes to possible inappropriate sexual thoughts
- Obsessively checking the baby while he/she sleeps
- Asking family members for reassurance that the baby has not been harmed or abused
- Going over the day’s events mentally to ensure that nothing bad has happened to the baby
Postpartum OCD symptoms typically start showing up in the first 2 to 3 weeks after giving birth; however, they may not be noticed by the woman or her family until months later. Without treatment, postpartum OCD symptoms can evolve and worsen and may not go away on their own.
Postpartum OCD Treatment
Postpartum OCD treatment is available to new mothers and fathers struggling with this terrible condition. Treatment options usually combine medication and therapy in order to fully manage symptoms and help the person cope.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other forms of psychotherapy help people work through their intrusive thoughts in a safe and non-judgemental environment. Psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are trained to understand mental health issues and teach coping skills to improve the quality of life.
Physicians and psychiatrists will likely also suggest a course of medications such as antidepressants, specifically SSRIs. Antipsychotic medications may also stop obsessive and compulsive thoughts from taking over the mind. Anti-anxiety medications called benzodiazepines are also effective at immediately providing relief from the nervous energy and fears associated with postpartum OCD symptoms.