OCD linked to postpartum depression in new moms
With the lack of sleep and extra responsibility that a newborn brings, many first-time moms are already on edge.
But a recent study revealed that after childbirth, new mothers may more likely suffer from even greater anxiety in the form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
The study published in the March/April issue of The Journal of Reproductive Medicine examined 461 women who were screened for depression, anxiety and OCD at two weeks after birth and then again at six months after birth.
At the two-week mark, 11 percent of the participants tested positive for symptoms of OCD. At the six-month mark, nearly half of the 11 percent continued to have symptoms, and 5.4 percent had developed new OCD symptoms. In comparison, previous studies estimate 2 to 3 percent of the population suffers from OCD.
Although OCD overall is rare, Dr. Helen Kay, a maternal-fetal specialist at Advocate Christ Medical Center, recognizes that it exists as a part of postpartum depression, a form of mental disorder that may go undetected.
Ideally, everyone would be screened prenatally for postpartum OCD, but since that’s not always possible, Dr. Kay, a member of Advocate Medical Group, takes another approach. “We are tuned into postpartum depression and so we ask our patients questions such as, ‘Do you have thoughts of harming your child? Are you getting enough rest?’ because being a new mom sometimes can bring on different behavior.”
Postpartum OCD can fuel obsessions related to harm that might come to the newborn vs. non-postpartum OCD, which may relate to obsessive behavior around symmetry and order or hoarding.
Study researchers said symptoms such as excessive worrying about germs or fear of injuring the baby are usually temporary and could result from hormonal changes or be an adaptive response to caring for a new baby. But if these compulsions interfere with a mother’s ability to function, they may indicate a psychological disorder.
If Dr. Kay suspects that a woman may be suffering from postpartum OCD, she says she would refer her to a psychiatrist or a mental health worker. “Sometimes social workers are also helpful because they can assess the home situation and help alleviate any home stresses that may be contributing to the problem and refer her to community resources,” she says.
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