New parents have a lot on their minds, both before and after their baby is born. Worries about the family budget, space for the nursery, breastfeeding, sleep schedules, vaccine schedules, and safety for the family, can cause anxious minds to fret obsessively.
Postpartum physical and mental concerns may also be forming in the minds of new moms. Before becoming too anxious about how many times you’ve checked the locks on doors, made sure the smoke and carbon dioxide alarms were working, and made sure, double and triple sure the baby is indeed asleep and not on its way to heaven, learn more about postpartum OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).
What Is Postpartum OCD?
Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an often missed or misdiagnosed anxiety disorder than some new mothers and fathers experience. It is marked by intrusive and repetitive thoughts and visions that can seem to come from nowhere and be frightening.
People who struggle with OCD feel a stronger sense of anxiety and the need to compensate for the troubling thoughts with compulsive behavior that can include constantly checking to see if the infant is breathing. It might help to know that as many as 3 to 5 percent of new moms and dads will experience symptoms of postpartum OCD, according to Postpartum Support International. They also note that “research has shown that these images are anxious in nature, not delusional, and have very low risk of being acted upon.”
What Causes Postpartum OCD?
There is some evidence that the hormonal (estrogen) imbalance from pregnancy and birth can cause postpartum OCD. Hormones can be disruptive to the neurotransmitter activity in the brain, which include serotonin. The serotonin disruptions have been known to cause OCD symptoms.
Stress is a known trigger for OCD. Certainly, the thoughts of preparing for, having, and bringing home a new baby is stressful for any new mother.
Symptoms Of Postpartum OCD
It is beneficial to know what the symptoms are for postpartum OCD. Stress can lead to doing oppressive-compulsive things and thinking.
If you believe you have experienced some or all of these, please contact your doctor. A physician is the best person to help you determine your perinatal needs.
- Obsessions (intrusive thoughts) that are persistent, repetitive thoughts or mental images related to the baby. The thoughts can be quite upsetting and not something you have ever experienced before.
- Compulsions are when the mom or dad may perform certain acts over and over again to reduce the fears and obsessions. This can include things such as needing to constantly clean or check things many times, such as locks on doors. It can also include checking on the infant, counting the infant’s breaths, or counting or reordering things in general.
- Feeling a sense of horror about the obsessions
- Abnormal fear of being left alone with the infant
- Hypervigilance in protecting the infant
- Most new mothers with postpartum OCD know their thoughts and actions are uncharacteristic and not likely ever to be acted on.
Treating Postpartum OCD
One treatment that could help defray the obsessive-compulsive thoughts and images new moms experience is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy involves teaching the patient how their thoughts affect their behaviors and how to control their reactions to their thoughts. Patients who receive CBT are taught to examine the automatic negative thoughts that intrude in their minds and note the evidence from reality that either proves it wrong or supports it. CBT is a short-term and affordable therapy that works for many mental health disorders.
It is not uncommon for new mothers or fathers to experience postpartum OCD. The new little one not only brings great joy, hope, and never-ending love to those who know him or her but can also produce postpartum depression and OCD. The good news is that if you are having spontaneous, intrusive, and frightening thoughts, images, or fantasies about the infant, you are not alone. This disorder is short-lived and very treatable. Speak to your doctor about it.