Almost all of us have heard of postpartum depression and it is probably fair to say that most people take this condition seriously which is good, because it is something to take seriously. Two equally serious conditions are postpartum anxiety and postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), yet not as many of us know about them even though approximately 10% of women experience postpartum anxiety and 1-3% experience postpartum OCD according to the International OCD Foundation. Due to the lower prevalence of postpartum OCD, fewer of us know that it is a real condition, impacting real people in a big way. However, despite the low occurrence of clinically diagnosed postpartum OCD, The OCD Center of Los Angeles, reports that a recent study found that over 50% moms with postpartum depression also exhibit at least some OCD symptoms. Additionally, according to the Journal of Reproductive Health and Infant Psychology, even some fathers exhibit symptoms of postpartum OCD!
Symptoms of postpartum OCD include but are not limited to:
-Intrusive thoughts of stabbing or suffocating the baby
-Unwanted images of throwing or dropping the baby
-Disturbing thoughts of sexually abusing the baby during bath time or diaper changes
-Incessant fear, accompanied with intrusive thoughts of harming the baby by accident through careless behavior
-Fear of making a wrong parenting decision leading to a serious or fatal outcome for the baby
Although it is extremely rare for parents to act on these thoughts and feelings, these experiences are scary and overwhelming for new moms and dads! Often times, out of confusion, shame and/or fear, parents hesitate to share their experiences with others, leading to increased distress and at times resulting in compounding symptoms such as ritualized behaviors and/or avoidance of certain activities (i.e. throwing away all knives in the home, repeatedly checking the baby for injuries, avoiding changing the baby’s diaper, avoiding bath time, attempting to monitor the baby at all times and avoiding sleep, etc).
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of postpartum OCD, consider the following:
Talk to your OBGYN or your child’s pediatrician. Not only should your doctor be able to assist you in making sense of your symptoms, they can also connect you with appropriate service providers.
Connect with other parents, family and friends. Opening up about your experience may not be easy but acceptance and support from others can help decrease symptoms. Plus. sharing your experience may help other moms and dads that are silently struggling alone.
Consider psychotherapy. Psychotherapy has been shown to help replace negative intrusive thoughts and overwhelming feelings with more positive, safe thoughts and feelings when suffering from postpartum OCD.
Consider medication management. While medication is not always needed, there are circumstances when medication can assist in symptom reduction. Consult with a medical professional that specializes in postpartum related issues in order to determine the best course of treatment.