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Understanding Postpartum OCD and Anxiety:
When Checking on Baby’s Breathing Becomes a Symptom

The birth of a child can be a beautiful and life-changing experience. However, it can also be a vulnerable and anxiety-inducing time for new parents. Postpartum OCD and anxiety are common conditions that affect many new mothers, but sadly, they are often misunderstood and go undiagnosed. One of the common symptoms of postpartum OCD and anxiety is checking on your baby’s breathing repeatedly. In this blog post, we will discuss what postpartum OCD and anxiety are, why checking on baby’s breathing can become a symptom, and how you can get the help you need.

Postpartum OCD is a type of anxiety disorder that affects up to 3% of new mothers. Its symptoms include obsessive and intrusive thoughts about harm coming to the baby, such as dropping them or suffocating them. These thoughts can be so distressing that moms may take excessive precautions to prevent them from coming true. For example, some moms may avoid holding their baby or refuse to leave the house. On the other hand, some mothers may engage in compulsive behaviors, such as checking on the baby’s breathing or temperature repeatedly, to alleviate their anxiety.

“Normal” or OCD?

It’s essential to keep in mind that while it’s normal to worry about your baby’s well-being, the intensity and frequency of these thoughts and worries can be a sign of postpartum OCD or anxiety. The persistent urge to check on the baby’s breathing could become crippling and interfere with daily life.

Checking on the baby’s breathing frequently is one of the behaviors that may indicate postpartum OCD. New mothers who experience it may leave the baby’s room constantly, interrupting their sleep and disturbing the baby’s routine. Moms struggling with postpartum OCD may feel that their baby’s life is in danger and may go to great lengths to ensure their safety. They may become reluctant to seek professional help, fearing that acknowledging their intrusive thoughts and compulsions could cause harm to their baby or lead to social stigma.

Other Common symptoms associated with postpartum OCD include:

1) Fear or anxiety of harming the baby: This fear manifests in many ways, such as constantly checking on the baby throughout the night or obsessively cleaning surfaces to prevent germs from entering the home.

2) Intrusive thoughts about death or harm to oneself or one’s child: These can range from feeling scared of leaving one’s baby alone to worrying about sudden accidental death.

3) Unwanted sexual thoughts: Women with postpartum OCD may experience intrusive thoughts or images related to sex that cause distress.

4) Excessive worry and rumination: These women often have difficulty controlling their worrying, which can lead to lack of sleep and exhaustion.

5) Compulsive behaviors: Women who suffer from postpartum OCD may engage in behaviors such as hand washing, checking, or counting objects to help manage their anxiety.

It is important for new mothers to be aware of the signs and symptoms of postpartum OCD, as it can be hard to identify on one’s own due to complexity of these symptoms, and the shame associated with these thoughts.

Caring for a new baby can be an overwhelming yet rewarding experience, and some women may find that they struggle with postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Postpartum OCD is a form of mental illness that affects women after giving birth. It is characterized by intrusive thoughts and behaviors which can have a significant impact on daily life.

Navigating Postpartum OCD

Postpartum OCD and anxiety can be challenging to navigate, but seeking help is the first step towards healing. If you’re experiencing symptoms of this condition, it’s vital to reach out to your healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Checking on your baby’s breathing repeatedly can be a symptom of postpartum OCD, and it’s essential to acknowledge the severity of these obsessive thoughts and feelings. Remember that with support and treatment, it’s possible to overcome postpartum OCD and anxiety and enjoy motherhood.

If you’re experiencing postpartum OCD or anxiety, please know that you’re not alone, and there is help available. Treatment options include medication and therapy, and they can be tailored to your individual needs. A specific type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), specifically ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention) is an effective form of therapy, considered the “gold standard of OCD treatment”.

Finding The Right Help

It is important for those with OCD to become educated regarding effective treatment so that they can become their own advocate, and make an educated decision of where to receive treatment for their OCD.

Many people seeking treatment for OCD are not aware of the many different viewpoints, theoretical approaches and levels of training that influence a therapist’s treatment method and effectiveness.  Many individuals who suffer with OCD become frustrated because despite many hours of therapy, their OCD is not improving. Studies have shown that it takes an average of 14-17 years for an individual with OCD to find effective treatment.

Numerous studies have shown that while CBT/ERP is the best treatment for OCD, yet many therapists have never received in-depth training in CBT/ERP for OCD, even though some therapists have been practicing for decades and claim to treat OCD. This has created a severe shortage of professionals adequately trained in the most effective treatment for OCD through ERP.

Remember, Postpartum OCD and anxiety are treatable, and with the right therapy,  you can overcome them and enjoy your motherhood journey.


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