Being a new mom comes with its share of exciting and beautiful moments. But for some, it can also come with some terrifying intrusive thoughts and pictures.
While postpartum depression gets a fair amount of press (as it should, it’s a serious matter), postpartum OCD is not something you hear about much. But it’s a thing.
And it’s a very weighty thing. However, just because you have intrusive and scary thoughts doesn’t mean you’ll act on them.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder outside of pregnancy or after giving birth tends to affect you gradually. If you have classic OCD, you experience recurring unwanted thoughts, ideas, or sensations. You may feel driven to do particular actions repetitively.
But postpartum OCD symptoms typically begin more rapidly, and those obsessions (thoughts and pictures) and compulsions (behaviors) can center around your unborn or newborn baby. (Yes, postpartum OCD can start while pregnant. It’s called perinatal OCD.)
Postpartum OCD Symptoms
Unfortunately, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder often goes undiagnosed. New moms may often feel shame and embarrassment about their intrusive and often disturbing thoughts. Incessant worry about harm coming to your baby or hurting your baby may make you worry about being hospitalized or getting your child taken away.
Rest assured, it’s more common than you think. In fact, an estimated 3-5% of moms experience postpartum OCD. And here’s something else you should know: It can also affect dads or your partner. And if you or your partner had symptoms of OCD before your pregnancy, you’re more at risk for developing postpartum OCD.
Some of the most common postpartum OCD symptoms to look for include:
- Repetitive thoughts about harm coming to your baby
- Intrusive images coming into your mind of harm coming to your baby
- OCD symptoms beginning or worsening during pregnancy or after delivery
- Fear about you hurting your baby, even though you don’t want to
- Compulsions meant to stop the obsessive thoughts from coming true such as
- constantly checking on your baby
- excessive washing and sanitizing
- repetitive prayers
- incessant requests for assurance from others
- Avoiding certain activities with your baby in an effort to prevent harm like
- using stairs
- holding your baby
- changing their diaper
- Feeling symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety (they often go hand-in-hand)
- Trouble sleeping
What makes postpartum OCD so debilitating is the uncontrollable, constant bombardment of intrusive, disturbing thoughts and pictures. They can make you feel incredibly distressed.
That’s why you need to seek treatment for postpartum OCD. You need help quieting the thoughts and compulsions so you can enjoy your baby.
Here are some examples of postpartum OCD intrusive thoughts:
Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder’s thoughts often begin with, “What if I…” These thoughts can be accompanied by even more distressing pictures of the event happening. (And these are things that you would never want to actually happen, which makes the thoughts and images even more painful.)
- What if I drop my baby?
- What if my baby chokes?
- What if I accidentally hit my baby’s head?
- What if I fall down the stairs with my baby in my arms?
- What if my baby drowns in the bath?
- What if I accidentally sexually abuse my baby while changing their diaper?
- What if my baby dies suddenly while sleeping?
- What if I make my baby sick?
Of course, there can be many other unwanted distressing thoughts. But again, it’s crucial to understand that just because you have these thoughts doesn’t mean anything is “wrong” with you. Postpartum OCD is a mental illness, not something you choose.
It’s also important to note that postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder is not postpartum psychosis. While your disturbing thoughts about potentially harming your baby are uncomfortable and unwanted, it doesn’t mean you have postpartum psychosis.
*If you experience hallucinations, delusions, a loss of inhibitions, or manic feelings, please contact help immediately. Postpartum psychosis is a severe mental illness that should be treated as a medical emergency.
Treatment Options for Postpartum OCD
The good news is that postpartum OCD is highly treatable. You can either talk to your OBGYN, primary care physician, or a qualified mental health practice like BOLD Health.
Here at BOLD Health in San Diego, our comprehensive team of mental health professionals has experience treating postpartum OCD in any of the above methods. After your initial evaluation, we’ll work with you to curate the ideal treatment plan to help you feel better.
Treatment for postpartum OCD could include one or more of the following:
- Psychotherapy for postpartum OCD
Here at BOLD Health, we use an evidence-based psychotherapy treatment to help you identify negative thought patterns and behaviors. Your therapist will challenge how you interpret your obsessive thoughts and work with you to develop more positive interpretations.
In this treatment for postpartum OCD, you’ll gradually confront situations and thoughts that you’ve avoided since becoming a mother. You’ll also work with your therapist to reduce compulsive rituals you’ve used to deal with your anxious thoughts.
- Medication management for postpartum OCD
You may feel a bit apprehensive about taking medication as a treatment for postpartum OCD. But it’s actually proven to be quite helpful. And any medications prescribed by our clinicians are safe to take while caring for and nursing your baby.
All medications carry side effects. It’s important to talk to your doctor before starting your prescription.
The most common medication prescribed for postpartum OCD is some form of serotonin-reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). These include:
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
SSRIs help reduce symptoms of postpartum OCD by preventing the reuptake of serotonin, allowing more of this happy hormone to go to your brain.
Typically, those suffering from OCD require larger doses of such medications than those suffering from depression or anxiety. But our experienced team of clinicians will continuously monitor your dosage and adjust as needed.
- IOP for Postpartum OCD
Sometimes you require more than traditional therapy to help you overcome postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. If, after your initial evaluation, it’s determined that something more structured and rigorous would benefit you, then you can enroll in our highly successful IOP.
We’ve helped hundreds of mothers just like you work through their feelings of anxiety, depression, and postpartum OCD. And we can help you.
Our IOP program in San Diego includes individual, group, and possibly family therapy sessions multiple times per week. You’ll meet with your therapist and fellow peers going through similar difficulties to work through your struggles together.
Enrolling in an IOP will give you the tools and strategies, and support you need to work through postpartum OCD in a more intensive, rigorous atmosphere. But because it is an outpatient program, you also benefit from putting the tools and strategies you learn into practice when you go home to your baby and your family environment.
Take the BOLD Step and Get Help for Postpartum OCD
You deserve to feel safe and happy around your baby. You deserve to get treatment for postpartum OCD. At BOLD Health, we offer science-backed therapy approaches tailored to meet your individual needs.
Your treatment plan won’t be like anyone else’s. It’ll be curated just for you. We believe in taking your whole self into account when helping our patients. Your biological and psychological underpinnings make a difference in how you need to receive mental health care. And we take this part seriously.
The BOLD Method brings traditional psychiatric medical care with the healing power of psychotherapy to treat your postpartum OCD and help you make meaningful changes for the future.
Feeling better is a click or call away. Contact us today and start feeling better sooner.