Author: Patricia Bratianu RN PhD RH-AHG
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a frequently unrecognized cause of suffering for new mothers. New fathers are plagued by it as well. Unlike post partum depression and post partum psychosis, which are commonly known about, little is known about post partum obsessive compulsive disorder.
Most people afflicted by post partum OCD are ashamed and too frightened to seek help. They worry that they may harm their baby, end up hospitalized or have the baby removed from their care. The fears only serve to worsen the symptoms. In fact, the chances of any of the fears actually materializing are close to zero.
Here are some characteristics of obsessive compulsive disorder in the post partum symptoms.
Symptoms begin suddenly in less than one month after giving birth. Other obsessive compulsive conditions usually develop gradually.
The primary obsession is that the parent will harm the baby or that the baby will die. Thoughts can be very bizarre and the new mom or dad recognizes them as such. Some common ones include "I might put the baby in the microwave”, “I might drown the baby” or “the baby will be dead when I go to check him or her”. The obsessive thoughts are not irrational fears about dirt or having the baby switched at birth in the hospital or hoarding. They are violent and horrific.
As a result of terrifying thoughts, new parents suffering from OCD have increased anxiety and may have difficulty sleeping, concentrating and feeling calm.
Some people avoid the baby for fear of harming him or her.
Other new parents seek constant reassurance that their baby is ok.
Parents may also be obsessive about constantly checking on the child.
Prayers may be compulsively offered to protect the baby.
Many researchers believe that the post partum OCD is a result of hormonal changes. Unfortunately no large studies have been done. Some researchers believe that the thoughts are normal as most new parents have some degree of similar thoughts. Those researchers believe that the new parents scare themselves repeatedly by believing that they are abnormal. They develop ritualistic habits which they mistakenly believe prevents harm from befalling the baby.
Treatment consists of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. The use of antidepressants is effective for other types of obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. While believed safe, the use of antidepressants if breastfeeding may not be harmless to newborns.
If you or someone you love may be experiencing post partum OCD, there is help available. Suffering in silence only promotes needless agony. Talk with loved ones or your health care provider. Select treatment options that work for you. If you need something to help you to relax but do not want to take pharmaceuticals, talk with your health advisor about trying natural remedies such as herbal and homeopathic remedies. Meditation, healthy foods, exercise and socialization can also be beneficial.