Pregnancy and motherhood come with an exciting but difficult time. Meanwhile, women are adjusting to the change in their bodies and lifestyle; they face challenges of caring for a newborn as well. It’s very common for women to feel anxious and worried at that time. However, if the situation persists, for some worries and concerns, she can develop a mental health problem as well.
It is estimated that around three-quarters of a million people in the United Kingdom are living with severe, life-impacting obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is a mental health condition in which a person experiences uncontrollable thoughts, images or fears. Also, the patient demonstrates compulsive behaviors.
This respective article discusses OCD in new mothers. The condition is termed as “postnatal OCD.” It can be really distressing and have a devastating impact on women, already adapting to being a mother.
What is postnatal OCD?
Pregnancy and childbirth is a time of heightened anxiety, with women often experiencing a sense of uncertainty. They can’t figure out what to do and feel overwhelmed by the responsibility for a new infant who is totally dependent on them. This might trigger the onset of intrusive fears, leading to the development of OCD in them.
Many women develop OCD for the first time during pregnancy or in the postnatal period. However, there are cases where women have a pre-existing history of OCD and their symptoms worsen during pregnancy. In both cases, the woman often focuses on the possibility of their baby being harmed and develops many fears. Most of the time, these fears focus on the possibility of them harming their child while other fears can be around issues of contamination, exposure to germs or dirt. Consequently, they show compulsive behaviors like cleaning and washing or checking the baby is still breathing.
What are the symptoms and their impacts?
The symptoms of postnatal OCD include compulsive rituals, unwelcome thoughts that control the mind. The mothers consistently fear supposed conditions. They constantly worry about ‘what if.” Furthermore, they stay around their baby 24/7 with a fear that something wrong may happen to him/her in their absence.
OCD significantly impacts the lives of parents experiencing it. Their continuous interference may cause a significant delay in their daily activities, socializing and communication, and general living. Note OCD is a more common perinatal mental health illness which is prominent after childbirth.
Most of the time, OCD affects the bonding between parents and the child as well. This is because of the parents fearing that they may cause harm to the baby. The mothers are usually fearful of being alone with their child which is challenging for fathers and the extended family, called upon to provide support.
New mothers already struggle with a lack of sleep, appetite, energy, and concentration. OCD can worsen these conditions and may stimulate anxiety and low mood. This may cause mothers to feel distant from their partners and other family members. Some of them don’t reach out for support and help because of the fear of being branded a ‘bad mother’.
How is postnatal OCD treated?
OCD is treatable. The first thing to do is to visit a doctor or a general practitioner. He/she will surely advise on the best course of treatment. The two fundamental, main forms of treating an OCD are,
Therapy usually includes a specialized form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with exposure and response prevention. It helps you understand and learn to cope with fears and obsessive thoughts without having to carry out compulsive behavior, or neutralizing the thoughts with actions. It is carried out with a therapist who breaks down the problems in separate parts, such as thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Medication is advised only if it is needed. The standard treatment is a type of antidepressant called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Medications may need to be taken for 12 weeks before any effect is felt. Moreover, the medicines may offer some side effects like always. Thus, therapies are recommended more as they are safe and offer no side effects.