For the last two weeks, we’ve been discussing the postpartum disorders that arise once your baby is born. As much as we’d like to say that these issues don’t happen, these cases are becoming more and more prominent. Fortunately, women are becoming braver and braver in sharing their stories and reaching out for help. Two weeks ago we discussed the most common of those postpartum disorders, postpartum depression. Last week, we shifted gears into learning more about postpartum anxiety. This week, we want to take a deep dive into some of the other postpartum symptoms – those of which relate to postpartum PTSD, postpartum OCD, and postpartum psychosis.
Other Postpartum Symptoms: Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder, or PPTSD, often affects women who experienced a real or perceived trauma. This trauma could have happened either during childbirth or immediately after the baby was born. The good news is that PPTSD is believed to only affect roughly 1-6% of women who have given birth. This means it’s rather unlikely this will happen to you, however it’s always good to be aware.
Traumas that could possibly cause PPTSD include:
- An unplanned cesarean
- Emergency complication – like prolapsed cord
- Births that include invasive interventions – like the use of a vacuum extractor or forceps
- Babies that have to stay in the NICU
- Lack of support during the delivery
- Lack of communication during the birth from the support team
- A mother’s feelings of powerlessness during the birthing process
Symptoms of PPTSD may include:
- Nightmares/flashbacks to the birth or trauma
- Anxiety/panic attacks
- Feelings of detachment from reality
- Hyper vigilance
- Startling easily
- Avoidance of anything that serves as a reminder of the experience
The most stressful part of PPTSD is that the mother may begin to re-experience the traumatic event. Even worse, the PPTSD could trigger other past traumatic events as well. Women who feel they are experiencing PPTSD need to talk with their health care provider as soon as possible. Even if the mother is unsure. It’s always better to share symptoms and experiences. With correct treatment, including therapy and possible medication, these symptoms should lessen and eventually go away.
What Is Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, or PPOCD, is one of the newest postpartum disorders. It is estimated that roughly 3-5% of postpartum women will experience at least some of the PPOCD symptoms.
Symptoms of PPOCD include:
- Obsessively occupied with keeping the baby safe
- Compelled to doing certain things repeatedly to help relieve anxiety and fear – this can include counting, organizing, and checking.
- Recognition of the obsession but feelings of horror, shame, and guilt arise in response
- Persistent and repetitive obsessions or thoughts – especially regarding ones of bad things happening to the baby
- Fear of being alone with the baby
In most cases, women who suffer from PPOCD recognize that their thoughts, actions, and feelings are abnormal. They often do not act on them. However, the obsession can grow. It can interfere with a mother’s ability to take care of her baby. It also prevents a mother bonding with and enjoying her baby. Just like PPTSD, PPOCD is controllable with the right treatment. Mothers can experience freedom from these controlling obsessions and compulsions.
What Is Postpartum Psychosis?
Postpartum psychosis, or PPP, is the most severe postpartum disorder. Luckily though, it is the most rare, as it only occurs in 1-2 of every 1,000 pregnancies. PPP occurs very suddenly. Normally symptoms start showing within 2-3 weeks after giving birth.
PPP symptoms are mainly characterized as “losing touch with reality”. They include:
- Bizarre behavior
- Suicidal thoughts
- Hallucinations and/or delusions
- Thoughts of hurting the baby
- Rapid mood swings
Unlike the other postpartum disorders we’ve discussed, PPP is considered to be a medical emergency. If a mother is experiencing, or thinks she is experiencing ANY of these symptoms, please seek help immediately.
I realize how scary these postpartum disorders are. And this postpartum blog series was never meant to induce fear. But the matter of the fact is, these disorders are real. We are validating they do exist. We want to make sure you have the information to educate yourself on the possibilities that can arise after birth. It’s far better to read about these postpartum symptoms in order to self-reflect.
We Want to Be on Your Support Team
Just like the past weeks, we want to make a few disclaimers. You must discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider as soon as possible. This could be your family doctor, your OB/GYN, or a public health nurse. There are many forms of postpartum treatment, and we have discussed many of these tools in our blog posts. Such examples are focusing on mindfulness, cognitive behavior therapy, and dialectic behavior therapy.
If you are a new mother, we want to remind you of the critical importance of sharing how you are feeling with your partner and family. It is especially crucial to share if you are experiencing some of these other postpartum symptoms. Building a network of trust and support is a complete game changer. We want to be part of that support group. Cristina Panaccione and Associates Counseling has two locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how we can help you navigate postpartum anxiety.
Kristen Biancaniello MSEd, NCC, CMHP received her Masters from Duquense University in 2010 in relationship counseling with a focus on marriage and family therapy. That same year she became a Nationally Certified Counselor. She is currently waiting on pins and needles to hear from the great state of Pennsylvania as to when she can add Licensed Professional Counselor to the end of her name.