What to Know About Postpartum Anxiety and OCD
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What to Know About Postpartum Anxiety and OCD

Most people are familiar with postpartum depression, but postpartum anxiety can be just as disabling if it’s not caught and can lead to lifelong mental health battles if it’s left untreated.

Having a baby brings many hormonal and psychological changes. Most are fleeting- once you get used to taking care of a baby, and you’re comfortable in your new role, your normal anxieties will ease up. The baby blues is a minor depressive type phase that is caused by very new hormonal changes but they typically go away within a few weeks. It’s when the obsessive fear turns into panic and the worrying turns obsessive that you need to see your doctor. Most people are familiar with postpartum depression, but postpartum anxiety can be just as disabling if it’s not caught and can lead to lifelong mental health battles if it’s left untreated.

postpartum anxiety

What is Postpartum Anxiety?

When it comes to postpartum mental conditions, most people are familiar with postpartum depression and even postpartum psychosis. What happens when your anxiety is on high and you can’t stop worrying about everything? If you’re feeling overly anxious, can’t shake the thought of worrying about everything and your mind is constantly racing, you may have postpartum anxiety.

Some forms of anxiety are normal and even beneficial. You’re hyper-alert to your infant’s needs and you are aware of the danger around you when you’re out, but when it takes over your life is when it becomes a problem.

Another lesser-known form of PPA is PP OCD. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a mental illness that causes intrusive thoughts. You’re unable to turn your brain off and it can lead to compulsions- things that make no sense that you have to do to ease the thoughts.

The entire disorder can lead to excessive worrying and panic over something bad happening unless you do the action. Most people assume it’s an obsession with things being in order, germaphobia, or handwashing but there are many other forms OCD takes and pregnancy can trigger OCD if you’re already prone. 

When Should You Seek Help?

postpartum care

If you feel the constant need to hold your baby or you find yourself terrified of driving, to the point that it prevents you from driving, that’s when you should seek help. Postpartum anxiety makes you feel off. It won’t typically cause any issues with bonding, but it may cause you to have problems with separation from your baby.

The same symptoms that come with most Anxiety disorders come with PPA. If you’re worried for no real reason, feelings of dread, panic and anxiety attacks, insomnia, mood swings because of the fear, feelings of lightheadedness, panic, nausea, or rapid heart rate, those could be symptoms of anxiety.

For a lot of women who experience PPA, it starts during the pregnancy itself and extends as far as past baby’s first birthday; sometimes even further.

Parents magazine has a list of symptoms to watch out for. The primary are the typical GAD/other anxiety disorder symptoms- lightheadedness that isn’t linked to other medical conditions, excessive fear that you can’t stop thinking about, heart racing, IBS type symptoms, racing thoughts, or panic attacks.

Who is Most at Risk?

If you already have an anxiety disorder, have a family history of anxiety, have dealt with OCD, depression or PPD or you’re sensitive to hormonal changes (IE, mood swings during ovulation or your period) you’re more likely to suffer PPA.

One of the causes is the hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy and during the postpartum phase. Another potential cause is personality traits- being a high-strung Type-A or being over-sensitive personality type could make you more prone. Same with being the type who typically worries for no reason.  

What are the Common Treatments?

postpartum support

If you’re breastfeeding, medications may be the last thing you’re wanting to try. Therapy and family/professional support are two of the first treatments. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a common therapy type that helps change behaviors under the control of a professional therapist.

Sometimes, just getting help in your day-to-day life and taking some of the pressure off yourself can do wonders for your mental health. If you have the means, hiring someone to help you with the house and baby from time to time or having the grandma, aunt or another family member or friend come by to help can ease some of the anxiety.

Sometimes simply talking about your situation can help, other times you need a mix of different treatments. Therapy sometimes is enough, but if you’re past breastfeeding and still feeling strong anxiety, it may be beneficial to talk to a psychiatrist about going on medication along with therapy.

There are also lifestyle changes you can try to make. Not only will they make you healthier in general, but they will help you while you’re undergoing treatment in the long run.

Some lifestyle changes you can make to ease symptoms include:
  1. Try to eat a healthier diet. It may sound cliche, but what you eat can play an actual role in your mental well-being as well as physical.

  2. Try to get on a sleep schedule. It may be impossible with a new baby who has to eat every couple of hours, but sleep is a huge factor with mental illnesses and mental health. If you don’t get enough sleep, it affects all aspects of depression, anger, impulsiveness, and even hunger.

  3. Exercising is shown to boost mental health. Getting a small amount in (once the doctor clears you) boosts endorphins and chemicals that help you feel relaxed, good and help you sleep better at night.

  4. Don’t just do home remedies in the hopes of severe anxiety clearing up. Lifestyle changes can help ease thoughts, feelings but without proper care under a licensed psychologist or therapist, you will spin in circles.

What Happens if PPA Goes Untreated?

When you’re dealing with the “baby blues” or mild PPD, many times it will clear up within the first year but when you’re dealing with PPA, it typically requires treatment by a medical or psychological professional. Sometimes, the hormonal changes will kick off a life-long mental illness like anxiety, OCD, or even BiPolar so if mental illness runs in your family, it’s something to keep in mind.

If you feel you have a problem with PPOCD or PPA and need support before seeing your doctor, SAMHSA’s resources can be found here.

Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Bethany Boggs

Bethany Boggs is a 30 something married mother of 2 kids. When she is not writing or working her day job, you can find her wrangling her 2 girls and 3 cats while sipping cold Starbucks and trying to remember why she walked into the room.

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