You just had a baby, and life is all sunshine and rainbows, right? Wrong. If you find yourself having a hard time relaxing, checking things repeatedly, getting stuck on thoughts about something bad happening, or feeling the need to clean and wash everything over and over, it could be a sign of postpartum OCD (PPOCD).
Being a new parent is really hard, and you are likely sleep deprived. You are likely finding it hard to have time or energy to exercise, and are grabbing whatever is quick to eat (often, junk food). But self-care is something that you do have control over, and if you have PPOCD, it is important to manage what you can. Try to eat better, get out of the house and walk, take naps, or have your partner take a night shift. It is important that even if you have a hard time sleeping, as is common with anxiety disorders, you are still trying to rest.
Anxiety can feel very scary, and PPOCD is on the anxiety spectrum. Learning some relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, creative visualization, or meditation, can teach you to calm the racing thoughts. It won’t happen overnight- it takes practice, like building a muscle. But if you can make some small times for it throughout the day, you will find it getting easier and easier for you to stay in the moment and get a break from what is going on in your head.
Do avoid watching the news, reading stories on the internet, or reading newspapers about scary things
Doing these things is a huge trigger for PPOCD. You could see a story about something horrible that happened, and find yourself unable to stop obsessing over that same thing happening. Common fears are fires, drowning, accidents, and getting sick, all of which you will likely hear or see in media. For a time, until you feel that your obsessive thoughts are being managed better, try to stick with neutral subjects.
If it is scary for you to be alone with your baby, or if you are having a hard time getting the rest, nutrition and exercise that you need, ask for help. Ask a friend or family member to come spend time with you during the day. Or ask them to take the baby for a while so you can nap, take a shower or exercise. Ask someone to bring you a bag of healthy food from the grocery store. And if you can afford it, hire a postpartum doula (which are actually more affordable than people realize).
PPOCD is much more common than people realize. Once you take some time to learn more about this disorder, and that you are not alone, it can start to feel like there is some hope that you will get better and will be able to manage the symptoms. Another idea is to go to a bookstore or library and find a self-help book or workbook specific to postpartum anxiety. There are some good ones out there!
Many new parents who struggle with this disorder worry that they are having these problems because they are going crazy. They worry that they may actually follow through with the intrusive thoughts that they may be having (such as that they may hurt their baby). The reality is that parents with these intrusive thoughts very rarely follow through with these thoughts, and they are not going crazy. Intrusive thoughts are way more common than people realize.
Many new parents with obsessive or intrusive thoughts feel like they cannot talk about what they are thinking, especially with their partners. They worry that their partner will think that they are not safe to be around the baby (or other children). They don’t tell their doctor, because they fear they may be hospitalized, or have their kids taken away.
Unfortunately, many new parents suffer in silence. It is very important that you talk with someone that you trust, preferably someone savvy with postpartum moms, who will understand that you are likely not a danger to yourself or your baby, but are definitely struggling with these thoughts. It can be very helpful to have someone reassure you that you are going to be OK, and that you have support and acceptance.
Struggling with obsessions, especially about illness or germs, can lead to a new parents feeling they need to isolate themselves to keep their baby from getting sick. The reality is that it is the rare circumstance that you cannot take your baby out of the house- even a very young baby. If you are one of those circumstances, your pediatrician will let you know. Otherwise, it is better to take small baby steps towards getting out of the house so that you are not trapped inside with your scary thoughts. Start by sitting outside on the front step, and work up to going out in public places. You will likely be glad that you did, even if it feels very scary at first.
You are not doing this to yourself. I repeat: You are not doing this to yourself. PPOCD is like a needle stuck in the groove of a record. There are often genetic factors that contribute to PPOCD, or a recognition that there has been some level of anxiety for quite some time prior to being pregnant. Do not tell yourself that you are weak for not being able to turn off the thoughts or to ask for help in coping with the symptoms.
Find someone who understands, whether that is someone you know who has been there, or a therapist or support group, but whatever you do, do not fight this alone. It can be very validating to hear that you are not a bad mom, or weak, or crazy. If you aren’t sure where to begin, consider seeking out an organization like Postpartum Support International. Or ask your OB/GYN, friend or ECFE leader who they trust.
PPOCD can be scary, and it’s very real. The thoughts and obsessions can make you fear you are going crazy. However, you are not alone, and should not feel ashamed. Reach out for support!
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