A year after my daughter was born I found myself in a place I never thought I would be in as a new mom. I would say as a new mom I was familiar with what postpartum depression entailed but I wasn’t educated on the other postpartum disorders out there. Just like me many people are not familiar with postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, or postpartum OCD. Some people may experience OCD prior to pregnancy, but many can have it appear with the new hormones, stress, and the major changes pregnancy and a new baby bring. * Trigger Warning ahead for those struggling*
What Does Postpartum OCD Look Like
For many moms it’s common to experience a depressive mood called “Baby Blues”, and for many treatment is not needed. Pregnancy or Postpartum (OCD) looks a little different. A study published a study on postpartum OCD prevention in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, found incidence of postpartum OCD ranges from 2%-9%. It involves repetitive intrusive & scary thoughts about her baby being harmed. Sometimes these thoughts make the mom do certain things over and over (compulsions) to reduce the anxiety caused by those thoughts. These thoughts can make the new mom feel like you have no control over anything.
Signs of Postpartum OCD
Obsessive worry about dropping the baby
Fear of baby will stop breathing or die from SIDS
The fear of people watching the baby and kidnapping it
The baby drowning
The brain is incredible and allows us to create powerful thoughts and stories. Often the brain is creating these thoughts out of protective instinct, but for some reason my brain was taking natural concerns and creating scary/disturbing scenarios.
Well You Are Not Alone
One thing that really helped me process and work through Postpartum (OCD) was knowing that having scary thoughts during the postpartum period are a very common symptom. I decided to work with a therapist to help me process and work through my feelings. Through working with a therapist I started to understand that these thoughts are not ME, they are a symptom. She helped me understand that my brain has many jobs and one of them is to protect. This means that our brain can often go to the worst case scenario, thinking about horrible situations, involving you and your baby, As I worked through my thoughts and she reminded me that those “scary thoughts” are not indicators that you are going to hurt your baby or something bad will happen to your baby. It is very much me going into protective mama mode.
How To Manage & Overcome Postpartum (OCD)
It was one year into motherhood and I stand the anxiety anymore. I said to myself these thoughts are just disturbing and don’t aligned with any of my values so I need some help. I immediate found Dr. Cassidy Freitas who specializes in supporting families from fertility to postpartum. Seeing her for weekly therapy and EMDR ( see post here) really allowed me so step back see the whole picture.
Obviously, I am not writing to you as an expert today. I’m writing to you to solely tell you what helped me through my postpartum OCD. A comprehensive treatment plan was key for me, which included cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication, and life balancing.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy allowed for me to talk to someone and develop a new relationship with the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing. It helped me understand that just because I was having a thought, doesn’t make that thought true. A quote from therapy I keep at the forefront of my mind is “feelings, thoughts, images are not FACT, they are data.” Visit Psychology Today to find therapists, psychiatrists based on your insurance and presenting problem.
- Medications such as serotonin reuptake inhibitor ( SSRIs ) are available to help manage postpartum OCD. Your doctor will help you evaluate the risk to benefit ratio when choosing treatment options. Taking into considering if you are breastfeeding since studies have found low levels of SSRIs in breast milk. Please remember that management strategies are not a one size fits all and should be tailored to the individual.
- Life Balancing was a huge as I learned to manage life with a new baby. Some of my life balancing examples included :
- a daily workout of some kind, even if it was just a walk with the baby
- reduced coffee intake which increased my anxiety
- create a regular sleep schedule. This was hard for me since my baby struggled with sleep too. So I decided to get a sleep specialist to help create a sleep foundation for my baby, which then gave me back my sleep.
- complete openness with my spouse about my daily feelings and when I needed some me time.
You are not alone as a new mom and in these new experiences. There are so many professionals available to support and help you. Please don’t not feel ashamed about getting help, what you are experiencing is treatable. And remember if something feels life-threatening and immediate help is needed, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.