It has been estimated that approximately two to three percent of new mothers experience postpartum OCD (PPOCD). With this disorder, a woman may have obsessive, intrusive thoughts and fears about her baby’s safety. Symptoms include:
- excessively washing or sterilizing baby bottles
- excessively washing baby clothing, or washing other family members’ clothing repeatedly
- isolating the baby to keep family members or others from “contaminating” the baby
- constantly checking on the baby
- experiencing persistent and horrifying fears of harming the baby
New mothers are expected to be excited about the arrival of their new baby. But PPOCD can leave a new mother feeling devastated and exhausted. Untreated PPOCD can have a negative impact on a mother’s ability to care for her child and severely strain her marriage, friendships and other relationships.
In the past, postpartum depression was frequently dismissed as the “baby blues.” Today, however, post-partum depression and postpartum OCD (a term that didn’t exist years ago) are viewed as potentially serious conditions. Fortunately, effective, individualized treatment for PPOCD and post-partum depression (which frequently occur together) is available, and can enable a new mom to manage her symptoms.
As with other types of OCD, postpartum OCD usually responds to medications (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Although serotonin reuptake inhibitors are effective treatments for OCD, their risks to the unborn and breast-feeding child are not yet well known. Many experts believe these medications probably pose no danger, but it’s important to discuss the possible risks with your doctor on an individual basis. A safer, yet more challenging treatment approach, is CBT, which has been demonstrated to be more effective than medications for non-postpartum OCD.