For many years now, we’ve heard about the problems postpartum depression can cause a new mother and, consequently, her family. You may have even experienced difficulties yourself from the perspective of a new mom or of a family member impacted by the depressed person’s behavior.
Postpartum Anxiety Disorders
Recently, another postpartum disorder has come to light and it can have results that are just as devastating as depression. Some women (who may or may not have previously been prone to anxiety) develop an anxiety disorder after giving birth. Most commonly occurring is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in which a mother demonstrates compulsions related to protecting her newborn. She may refuse to put the baby in a crib, choosing instead to carry him all the time. She may spend so much time scrubbing all the contents of the nursery—everything that the infant touches—that she is neglectful of his basic needs. Or she may wash the baby over and over again until his skin becomes tender or raw to the touch.
Symptoms of postpartum OCD may include disturbing thoughts about her baby’s safety or health, most of which are irrational (e.g., disease-carrying bacteria on a baby bottle or toy, roaches or mice crawling into the crib, etc.). And, as in other cases of OCD, the thoughts are repetitive and recurring, and the new mother feels powerless to push them out of her mind.
What would or could you do to help a sister, daughter, wife, or friend whom you recognized as showing signs of postpartum OCD? If you believed the newborn to be in any danger as a result of his mom’s obsessive-compulsive behaviors, what would be the wisest approach to doing something about it?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – CBT Efficacy for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Fortunately, there are effective measures to be taken, but any program has a much better chance of helping if initiated prior to childbirth. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be highly successful in treating anxiety disorders. A recent investigation of postpartum, OCD at the University of Miami, therefore, proposed a program using CBT to prevent anxiety disorders and to be incorporated into regular childbirth classes. Pregnant women identified as being at risk for developing OCD were divided into two groups, one of which received the prevention program. These moms-to-be were instructed in how to recognize warning signals of anxiety, panic, and OCD and were trained in techniques to handle their strong feelings (compulsions and obsessions) in healthier, safer ways. Mothers in the program had less anxiety after the birth of their babies, and this effect lasted at least six months, when the last measure was taken.
Are you an anxious person or do you experience intense anxiety from time to time? Do you think that some of the training involved in the CBT program of prevention outlined should be offered to all pregnant women? Or should all expectant mothers at least be screened for being at risk of anxiety (and other) disorders?