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Postpartum OCD: How To Recognize the Symptoms and Get Help

For a mother, bearing a child is characterized by change.

There are, obviously, physiological changes that occur in the perinatal period - that is, the few months before and after birth.

But there are also immense mental and social changes that occur. Priorities shift drastically: Things that were of paramount importance before childbirth might now seem almost laughably inconsequential. Family social habits will change to make way for childcare.

Among these changes is the possibility of developing mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, or OCD.

Specifically, postpartum OCD affects approximately three to five percent of women who have recently given birth.

Because the few months after childbirth are usually extremely busy, for obvious reasons, it's hard for many mothers to monitor their own mental health and get help when they need it.

Let's dive into the warning signs and symptoms of postpartum OCD, as well as what new mothers can do to find the support they need, should they need it.

Postpartum OCD Resources on This Page:

Symptoms of Postpartum OCD

What causes postpartum OCD?

Treating Postpartum OCD: Therapy for New Mothers

Managing Postpartum OCD: At-Home Care

Postpartum OCD Therapy in Brooklyn: Williamsburg Therapy Group

Symptoms of Postpartum OCD

Standard OCD, also called obsessive-compulsive disorder, is characterized by two mechanisms:

  • Obsessions or intrusive thoughts which are very hard or impossible to ignore
  • Compulsions, actions, or rituals related to easing the obsessive thoughts

In postpartum OCD, the same mechanisms come into play, with the caveat that they usually relate to the child.

Keep an eye out for these warning signs of postpartum OCD:

  • Obsessive and intrusive thoughts about harm befalling the child or about harming the child yourself
  • Compulsions related to protecting the infant, which usually stem from anxiety related to intrusive thoughts
  • Fear of being left alone with the child
  • Exacerbated protective policies for previously-trusted friends and family members (e.g. not allowing grandparents to see the child with no practical reason for doing so)

We should note here that, while new mothers with postpartum OCD might have thoughts of harming their child, they rarely act on them. Intrusive thoughts are usually unrelated to a person's true feelings, and unlike cases of postpartum psychosis, almost all mothers with postpartum OCD are completely aware that their intrusive thoughts must, under no circumstances, be trusted or acted upon.

Still, even if harm doesn't befall the child, postpartum OCD can be extremely debilitating and distressing. Finding help is imperative.

What causes postpartum OCD?

While there is no single known cause of postpartum OCD, we do know that there are a number of contributing factors that can increase a new mother's chance of developing the condition.

Genetics, for example, can contribute to the development of OCD in anyone, including new mothers. One's environment, stress levels, and existing conditions can also impact one's chances of developing OCD.

Postpartum OCD in particular has an additional risk factor: hormonal changes. Undeniably, pregnancy and childbirth involve vast and intense hormonal changes that dictate how the female body manages the growth, development, and birth of a child. These hormonal changes can pave the way for the development of mental health conditions like postpartum OCD.

Treating Postpartum OCD: Therapy for New Mothers

Because postpartum OCD is a medical condition, it needs to be treated by a professional.

There are therapists that specialize in OCD and other mental health conditions, but because postpartum OCD is unique in its symptoms and characteristics, mothers usually see perinatal therapists.

These are therapists who specialize in perinatal mental health, which refers to a woman's mental health state for the few months before and after childbirth.

Besides this specialization, the treatment for postpartum OCD is actually the same general kind of therapy as it is for many other mental health conditions: cognitive behavioral therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a very well-studied and evidence-backed form of talk therapy that usually takes place over the course of eight to 12 weeks. During sessions, your therapist will analyze and talk through your typical thought patterns in order to find logical breaks, negative thinking, or cognitive distortions.

Then, they will work with you to reframe and restructure those thoughts to be healthier and more constructive.

Note that therapy is a process and that, particularly for OCD, symptoms can seem insurmountable. This feeling often persists for the first few sessions. Understand that your therapist is following the known and proven methodologies for CBT and that, after 8 to 12 weeks, over 75% of people find notable relief from symptoms and distress.

Managing Postpartum OCD: At-Home Care

If you have been diagnosed with postpartum OCD, your first step should be to seek professional help. Only a licensed therapist is trained to administer treatment in a safe and productive way.

However, there is one thing new mothers can do at home in order to help ease symptoms or, at the very least, distress.

Postpartum OCD, like many mental health concerns, is often made worse by stress. Reducing stress as much as possible can help reduce symptoms between therapy sessions.

We are, of course, aware of the irony here: A disorder that gets worse with stress occurs during one of the most stressful times in a woman's life.

But even small steps to take some of the load off can help symptoms improve. If you have the means, invest in a couple hours of "me time" each week, so you can regroup and be an individual, just for a moment, during this transitional time.

Aromatherapy and warm baths can help reduce stress too, as can light physical activity (but always consult your doctor before starting exercise after childbirth).

Postpartum OCD Therapy in Brooklyn: Williamsburg Therapy Group

Williamsburg Therapy Group is proud to host Brooklyn's premier perinatal mental health program, designed and staffed by doctoral-level perinatal and postpartum psychologists.

If you're looking for the best treatment for postpartum OCD in Brooklyn, don't hesitate to give us a call. Our patient coordinator will be happy to find the right therapist for you.

Book a Therapy Session in Brooklyn Today

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