Our Best Tips For Dealing With Postpartum OCD

As if being pregnant for nine months, giving birth, and juggling life with a newborn isn't tough enough, many women experience postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), per WebMD. Even if you've never had any form of OCD before or been prone to anxiety, it's still possible that you can experience symptoms of postpartum OCD. This is the result of fluctuating hormones as your body adjusts to the many changes it has recently endured and continues to go through. The stress that comes with getting too little sleep and going through the general life changes of caring for a new baby doesn't help, either.

Women who experience postpartum OCD are often plagued by excessive worrying, particularly when it comes to thoughts about their baby's well-being. Anxiety-inducing stress over being a good mom, performing needed tasks correctly, providing optimal care for their newborn, keeping their eyes glued to the baby monitor, and maintaining a germ-free environment to prevent pathogens from reaching their little ones are frequent concerns that women who experience postpartum OCD report having. First-time mothers are five times more likely to be diagnosed with the condition, and as many as seven out of 10 women with postpartum OCD may have comorbid postpartum depression.

The good news is that postpartum OCD isn't a permanent experience, and there is lots of advice from experts out there that can help guide you. Here are some tips to help you through this trying time.

Know that postpartum OCD is treatable

If you're diagnosed with postpartum OCD — or any similar condition like postpartum depression or anxiety — you definitely aren't alone. According to Texas Children's Hospital (TCH), many new mothers experience fear over common worries like potentially dropping their newborns, having their baby suffer an injury, or having problems with the overall well-being of their new child. Not only is worrying extremely common after having a baby, but postpartum OCD is very treatable and can be managed with proven methods until the condition eventually goes away. This means the thought of having postpartum OCD forever is one less thing you have to worry about.

The first thing you should do if you think you may be experiencing postpartum OCD — or if you're feeling extra anxious after giving birth — is to speak with your doctor. Diagnosing postpartum OCD is performed by analyzing a comprehensive health history and an assessment of current thoughts, fears, and anxieties (via TCH). Both obsessions and compulsions will be taken into account when making a clinical determination about the presence of postpartum OCD. If the assessment is affirmative in diagnosing the condition, then your doctor will craft a tangible treatment. One of the most effective treatment methods for postpartum OCD is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) referred to as "exposure and response prevention," which is a controlled form of therapy in which a therapist guides the mother through identifying the most anxiety-inducing thoughts she's having and then helps her learn how to confront them to regain her agency.

Ask your doctor about OCD medications

In addition to talk therapies, such as CBT, a comprehensive treatment plan for postpartum OCD may include medication. Specifically, a type of medication called "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors" (SSRIs) has been found to be very effective in treating symptoms of OCD, including postpartum OCD, per WebMD. SSRIs are a class of prescription medications that involve the use of the hormone serotonin, which the body naturally creates to regulate mood, emotions, and general feelings of wellness. The SSRIs prescribed to help with boosting serotonin levels in women with postpartum OCD have been found to be safe to use while both pregnant and breastfeeding, so you can securely take the medication to ease your anxiety while also continuing to breastfeed your baby. Some women can also experience symptoms of OCD during pregnancy, and the same SSRIs prescribed for postpartum OCD are effective in treating anxiety and OCD symptoms during pregnancy. By increasing the amount of serotonin in your body, the feelings of anxiety, fear, and excessive worrying that come with postpartum OCD should subside.

Other hormone medications and therapies have also been found to possibly be effective in easing symptoms of postpartum conditions. A 2004 study published in the Archives of Women's Mental Health found that low estrogen levels may be a reason why some women develop postpartum disorders that affect mood, such as postpartum OCD. Based on these findings, the hormone estradiol may potentially be able to treat postpartum psychosis, postpartum depression, and postpartum OCD.

Get in touch with your body

When you think of exercising, you likely conjure up images of a bodybuilder lifting weights or someone running a marathon. In reality, and particularly during the period right after you've had a baby, exercise can involve smaller movements and calming activities, ultimately being equally as effective as more intense exercise. Mindfulness practices and meditation can do wonders for easing anxiety and stress associated with postpartum OCD, according to Motherly. You may not associate meditation with exercising, but yoga is a great way to incorporate moderate movement into your daily routine, and you don't have to leave your house to roll out a yoga mat or a towel on your living room floor to do some light stretching.

Yoga Journal recommends several poses that can potentially relieve symptoms of postpartum OCD and postpartum depression, which include extended puppy pose, pigeon pose, warrior pose II, and skull shining breath. If you want to practice yoga with more of a traditional meditation approach, you can give yoga nidra a go. To practice yoga nidra, you can rest flat on your back in savasana, also called "corpse pose," and then do a full body scan from the top of your head to your toes. You can try yoga nidra exercises on a mat rolled out on the floor, or you can practice the method on your bed or sofa if a cushioned area is more comfortable for your body. Do movements that feel right for you.

Prioritize self care

Self-care is a constructive way to relax, calm worries, and reduce stress on the best of days, but more so during pregnancy and adjusting to life with a newborn, per Choosing Therapy. Since postpartum OCD and symptoms of OCD during pregnancy can exacerbate the emotional experience of an already intense time, finding small moments to practice self-care can be extremely advantageous. Whether it's enjoying aromatherapy while breastfeeding or rocking your baby to sleep, taking a few deep breaths when you have some time to sit in rare peace and quiet, or catching up on some much-needed sleep — taking care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually during this time is essential. It can help ease the symptoms of postpartum OCD since a reduction in stress levels can lead to subsequent decreases in anxiety and worry.

Given that postpartum OCD worries frequently revolve around the well-being of the baby, it's also critical to remember that the well-being of the mother must be prioritized and her needs met in order to care for the needs of the newborn (via Impulse). From sleep to diet to finding ways to relax and reduce stress, the parent must be cared for so that the infant can also have its needs met. Think of it as the oxygen mask analogy wherein you must put your oxygen mask on first before you can put an oxygen mask on someone else.

Reach out to friends and family for support

Any support your loved ones can offer to you when you are experiencing postpartum OCD can be exceptionally helpful in contributing to positive outcomes in both your coping and healing processes. A fact sheet from the International OCD Foundation states that new parents experiencing postpartum OCD can experience issues with interpersonal relationships — particularly a marriage or partnership — due to intense fear, anxiety, and worry about the well-being of the new baby. A caring friend, partner, or neighbor, offering their support to you as a new parent, regardless of postpartum OCD diagnosis, can help not only ease your anxiety but may also allow for time to be spent with that person.

When it comes to supporting you as a spouse, partner, friend, or loved one, the most important thing people can do is respect your decisions when it comes to the ways in which you choose to deal with your experience. They can offer gentle guidance, but it's better for them to listen than to offer unsolicited advice when you're already feeling overwhelmed and anxious about being a good mother (via Choosing Therapy). In this sense, they can help to encourage you by complimenting your skills as a new parent and letting you know that you're doing a great job simply by trying your best. If they are able, offering to help with basic household chores or making a meal and taking just one task off your hands can do wonders for your well-being by making your lengthy to-do list one task shorter.

Find support and validation outside your home

Having a support network can do wonders for eliminating feelings of loneliness as you go through the postpartum period, especially if you're experiencing postpartum OCD. If you don't have time to leave the house or aren't comfortable venturing far from your baby, look for online support groups through social media or websites. Postpartum Support International recognizes that support for the feelings of fear, worry, anxiety, and OCD that can appear for women (as well as for fathers) during pregnancy and throughout the postpartum period is beneficial and offers virtual support groups for all demographics. Speaking with other mothers experiencing postpartum OCD and hearing stories from women who have been through childrearing and anxiety around life with a newborn can be reassuring in letting you know that you aren't alone, nor are you the first person to experience fear or stress about being a good parent. Sometimes the most validating thing is learning that you aren't alone in your experience.

Another way to connect with others and find support through socialization is to connect with coworkers or begin to ease your way back into your work if it feels right for you (via Choosing Therapy). Of course, never push yourself if it's making your symptoms of postpartum OCD become worse; but finding time to participate in projects that you find fulfilling can help ground you and provide an outlet for easing stress, anxiety, and worry over your newborn.

Avoid doing these things

Coping with new parenthood and overcoming postpartum OCD through effective means like therapy, medication, self-care, and community support is a triumph in and of itself. However, for all of the items on your to-do list as a new parent, there are some items you should remember not to do (via Choosing Therapy). 

One of the things you should avoid during this time is giving in to self-deprecating and defeating thoughts, particularly about your progress and performance as a mother experiencing postpartum OCD. Placing judgment on yourself will only make the experience worse and potentially draw out the healing process, thus ultimately making the compounded experience of new parenthood with postpartum OCD more intense. 

Also, try to avoid becoming isolated by reaching out to your support network. Being at home with a newborn, especially when sleep deprived and feeling anxious, can make it easy to hole up and refrain from reaching out to others. However, this is one of the most important times to reach out to your community — for both practical help and opportunities to socialize with other adults — because even though your new baby is wonderfully adorable, having a conversation with another adult can be a welcome reprieve. 

Finally, don't rush the healing process. Being patient with yourself, both mentally and physically, is key. Both your body and your emotions have been through a lot, to say the least, and being kind to yourself by practicing patience and allowing yourself to celebrate the small daily wins will ultimately lead to bigger wins.