Being a new parent is hard and understandably overwhelming. But if you find yourself swamped with emotions and obsessive thoughts about, say, your baby is in danger at all times, you might be suffering from postpartum OCD.
While doctors tend to discuss perinatal depression with new mothers, postpartum OCD is often not talked about and, therefore, less heard of, even though it affects 2.9% of women.
In this article, we shed light on postpartum OCD, its causes, and its signs. We explain how it affects you, your baby, and your partner and why it is crucial to get immediate help. Lastly, we discuss treatment options you can avail to work through the problem.
What Is Postpartum OCD?
OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it is a mental health disorder characterized by repetitive, unwanted thoughts and unusual, compulsive behavioral patterns. Postpartum OCD is one of the many subtypes of OCD that occurs during pregnancy or immediately after delivery /childbirth.
It is important to mention that postpartum OCD can be manifested by pre-existing OCD, or it can simply be a sign of depression. Also, while depression can occur in women who have undergone a miscarriage or abortion, postpartum OCD is almost always seen in women who give live births.
Nevertheless, it is damaging and can drive the affected mothers extremely anxious, which ultimately affects their own and their baby’s well-being.
Here are some of the causes of postpartum OCD:
- Genetics: OCD is one of the disorders that have been associated with genetics, and you’re highly prone to developing postpartum OCD if someone in your immediate family has a history of it.
- Disruption In Hormone Levels: Hormone levels, especially those of reproductive hormones, are naturally altered during and after pregnancy, which can lead to the development of mood disorders like OCD. Certain medicines, like oral contraceptives, can also exacerbate the problem.
- Low Serotonin: Serotonin is called a feel-good hormone, and a drop in serotonin levels, or extra reuptake of the chemical by neurons due to cognitive imbalance, can cause postpartum OCD. The use of antipsychotics is associated with this condition.
- Environmental Factors: Things like inadequate family support, non-harmonious relationships with your partner, or workplace stress can all contribute to postpartum OCD.
- Related Traumatic Experiences: Traumatic experiences like the death of an infant, miscarriage /abortion, or having a child fall excessively sick can all lead to obsessive-compulsive behavior after the birth of a new child.
While there are no specific signs, here’s what postpartum OCD might look like:
- Recurring mental images of the baby as dead or unhealthy
- Obsessively cleaning feeding bottles multiple times a day
- Constantly worrying about your baby falling over or hurting themselves
- Not trusting other people with the baby
- Being constantly anxious about your child’s health
- Obsessively checking the baby monitor
- The impulse to check a baby’s heartbeat and to breathe when they’re sleeping
- Hallucinating about harming the child (dropping /stabbing /killing the child)
How Is Postpartum OCD Damaging?
Here’s how postnatal OCD affects you and your family:
- You tend to feel overwhelmed and anxious round-the-clock. The thoughts of harming your baby might cause you to avoid certain bonding activities with the child-like bathing, napping, cuddling, etc. This naturally drives guilt and self-doubt.
- You’re unable to cater to your baby’s needs.
- Unchecked obsessive thoughts and hallucinations about harming your baby can potentially be fatal for the child.
- Anxiety does not exist in isolation. Behavioral changes and mood swings due to OCD can lead you to unintentionally act out towards your partner. This is borderline abusive and can lead them to feel inadequate and worthless.
- With your condition, your partner has to singlehandedly be emotionally available for you while taking care of the baby (and other children). This can get massively overwhelming for them.
Unlike baby blues that resolve after a couple of weeks, postpartum OCD does not go away on its own and can worsen with time.
The early days are a crucial part of your baby’s life in terms of parental bonding and development. In order to be there for them as a parent, it is essential to get a timely diagnosis and early treatment for postpartum OCD.
The condition is diagnosed by professional therapists. Parents are encouraged to talk to their doctor in routine, post-delivery, follow-up visits about any symptoms of depression or OCD.
Therefore, if you notice any of the signs mentioned in the post, discuss it with your doctor so you can be referred to a psychologist /psychiatrist if need be.
The authorized practitioner will take an elaborate history of your condition and, using the proper criteria (mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), evaluate whether or not you have postpartum OCD.
Even though OCD is not curable, it can be effectively managed and controlled with a suitable treatment plan.
Counseling is the first line of treatment for postpartum OCD. A professional therapist will sit you down and ask you to voice your feelings. Reaching the root of the problem, such as factors possibly triggering your OCD, will then help control the recurrent thoughts.
The counseling session might also involve some exercises (that your doctor deems fit according to the severity of your OCD).
Please remember that this can be overwhelming, and you are well within your rights to request your doctor to tone it down or stop the activities you’re uncomfortable with.
Certain antipsychotics and relaxants might be prescribed if therapy doesn’t suffice in helping you work through postpartum OCD. Remember that drugs have side effects, and a good doctor will only resort to them after exhausting all other options.
Importance of Partner’s Support
When battling with mental health issues, especially postpartum OCD, it is critical to know that open communication with your partner is essential. This involves discussing your feelings and impulsive behavior, as well as acknowledging how that might be affecting your partner.
Mental health is still a highly stigmatized subject, which is why getting help for postpartum OCD can feel difficult.
However, it is highly dangerous for the well-being of you and your family, and getting a prompt diagnosis and help to overcome it is crucial. So, if you are a new mother, and notice OCD signs mentioned in the write-up, consult a professional today!