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The Anxiety Disorder No One Wants to Talk About

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Thousands of women silently suffer from postpartum OCD (PPOCD) every day. Here’s how you can eliminate obsessive and intrusive thoughts once and for all.

For many people, having a child is a cause for joy and celebration. But for some women, these overwhelming feelings can morph into something else entirely. They may experience obsessive thoughts about their baby's safety or intrusive thoughts about harm. These thoughts can lead to a disorder known as postpartum OCD (PPOCD). In this blog post, we will discuss the symptoms of PPOCD how to get help, and ways to cope with the disorder.

What is Postpartum OCD?

Postpartum OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is a kind of postpartum anxiety disorder that can occur after the birth of a child. PPOCD includes intrusive thoughts about the baby's safety, including disturbing thoughts of harming the baby. Intense feelings of fear and worry often accompany these thoughts. Perinatal OCD is a similar disorder that can occur during pregnancy.

How is postpartum OCD different from other kinds of OCD?

In most cases of PPOCD, individuals can recognize that their thoughts are irrational. But, new mothers may not be able to see that their thoughts are not based in reality. Instead, they may genuinely believe that they can harm their child, even though they would never do so. Also, the onset of postpartum OCD tends to be faster than other kinds of OCD.

Why do obsessive thoughts focus on the unborn/newborn baby?

It's normal to experience increased anxiety about your new baby. But there are a few factors that may contribute to the development of postpartum OCD intrusive thoughts. First, the birth of a child is a life-changing event that can trigger anxiety and stress.

In addition, new mothers have less time to take care of themselves. They frequently experience sleep deprivation and increased anxiety levels. Finally, hormonal changes after childbirth play a role in the development of PPOCD.

Who suffers from postpartum OCD?

PPOCD much more common than most people think. But because of the embarrassing and shameful nature of the intrusive thoughts, most people feel uncomfortable talking about them. PPOCD may affect about 1-2% of pregnant or postpartum women. Tens of thousands of women experience obsessive and intrusive thoughts every day. New fathers are also susceptible to postpartum OCD when they also take part in caring for the baby.

Is postpartum OCD connected to postpartum depression?

It is possible to experience both PPOCD and postpartum depression (PPD) simultaneously. Negative thinking patterns may cause obsessive thoughts. Likewise, obsessive thoughts can cause depression. It's unclear if one causes the other or if a different root cause links PPD and PPOCD.

How Do I Know If I Have Postpartum OCD?

There are several tell-tale symptoms when it comes to postpartum OCD. But the only real way to determine if you have PPOCD is to seek help from a medical doctor or certified mental health professional.

Postpartum OCD Symptoms

The most common symptom of PPOCD is intrusive, unwanted thoughts about harming the baby. These thoughts can be so persistent and distressing that they interfere with everyday life. Other symptoms may include:

  • Checking on the baby obsessively.

  • Excessive cleaning and sterilization.

  • Avoiding activities or places where you think you might harm the baby. Examples include bathing the baby, holding the baby, using stairs, or changing diapers.

  • Seeking reassurance from others about the safety of the baby.

  • Feeling guilty or ashamed about your thoughts.

  • Excessive research or worry about your baby's safety or well-being.

  • Constantly seeking reassurance from others about your baby's safety.

  • Feeling like you are "going crazy" or that you are a bad mother.

  • Postpartum OCD sexually intrusive thoughts are also commonly reported.

Will my thoughts and compulsions lead me to harm my baby?

Just because you have thoughts about harming your baby does not mean that you are capable of doing so. Women with postpartum OCD are incredibly loving and dedicated mothers who would never dream of actually harming their children. However, the constant stress that comes with the disorder can be quite debilitating.

Getting Help for Postpartum OCD

When someone you love has PPOCD

When you suspect someone else is suffering from PPOCD, or if you’re trying to be a supportive partner, it can be challenging to know how to help. The most important thing you can do is to provide support and understanding. Here are some other things that may be helpful:

  • Encourage the person to seek professional postpartum OCD treatment.

  • Help with household tasks and childcare to reduce stress and anxiety in the new parent's life.

  • Avoid judgment. It can be easy to judge someone, but it's important to remember that they are not in control of their thoughts.

  • Be a sounding board. Sometimes, just talking about the intrusive thoughts can help lessen their power.

  • Offer reassurance. Reassuring the person that they are a good parent and that their baby is safe can help ease their anxiety.

If you think you might be suffering from postpartum OCD

It is important to seek help from a medical professional or mental health provider. Managing PPOCD is possible if you address the issue intentionally.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective postpartum OCD treatment. In CBT, patients work with a therapist to identify negative thought patterns and replace them with more positive, realistic thoughts. Patients also learn coping and relaxation techniques that can help manage anxiety.

Talk therapy is another way to address intrusive thinking caused by postpartum OCD. Here at Great Lakes Counseling Group, we can provide you with the support and guidance you need. We understand how difficult it can be to cope with intrusive thoughts and we are here to help.

Reclaim control over your thinking patterns and learn to manage your PPOCD. Sign up for your judgment-free session with our expert PPOCD counselors today.

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