Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, and Postpartum OCD: What’s the Difference?

Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, and Postpartum OCD: What’s the Difference?

Most people have heard of postpartum depression, a common mental health condition that happens during pregnancy or after giving birth (the perinatal period).

But you may not have known that postpartum depression isn’t the only psychological disorder that affects new parents. Postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD are almost as common as postpartum depression, but not nearly as well-known or well-studied.

Here’s a breakdown of the similarities and differences between postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum OCD.

Similarities and differences between postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum OCD

Postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum OCD are all common mental health concerns that happen during pregnancy and after giving birth.

Although they all come on during the same time (during the perinatal period), and they all cause significant distress, the 3 conditions are distinct in important ways.

What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is perhaps the most well-known condition affecting pregnant people and new parents. If you have symptoms of major depression during the perinatal period, then you may have postpartum depression.

Some of the key signs and symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Problems with sleep (that are unrelated to caretaking duties)
  • Intense mood swings or irritability
  • Feeling sad most or all of the time
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Feelings of worthlessness, like feeling like you aren’t a good parent
  • Lack of interest in the world around you, even in previously enjoyable activities
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby or ending your life

If you are having any thoughts about hurting yourself or your baby, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Postpartum depression is very common, and affects up to 1 in 7 people who have recently given birth.

What is postpartum anxiety?

Many people with postpartum depression have worries about their babies’ well-being. But when these worries are all-consuming, or don’t go away, then you may be diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. 

Unlike postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety isn’t recognized as an official diagnosis that’s listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM). So if you’re experiencing anxiety in the perinatal period, you’ll likely be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.

Many new parents have both postpartum depression and an anxiety disorder. These two conditions (depression and anxiety) appear together very frequently.

Some of the most common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Excessive worries that are disproportionate to reality
  • Feeling restless, tense, or constantly on edge
  • Not being able to sleep because of the worries
  • Muscle tension or unexplained headaches and stomachaches
  • Fatigue (unrelated to caretaking duties)
  • Difficulty concentrating

When anxiety hits during the postpartum period, new parents usually have excessive worries about some aspect of parenting. It’s common for parents with postpartum anxiety to worry constantly about some kind of harm coming to their baby. They may also worry that their baby will die, for example, of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Postpartum anxiety is only slightly less common than postpartum depression. Nearly 13% of new mothers were found to have postpartum anxiety. Around 8% have both postpartum depression and anxiety at the same time.

What is postpartum OCD?

Some new parents who have excessive worries may actually have obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. The differences between generalized anxiety and OCD can be subtle, but it’s important to receive the correct diagnosis because the way these two disorders are approached can be different.

Like postpartum anxiety, parents with postpartum OCD also have excessive worries that aren’t in touch with reality. But OCD is defined by two key symptoms: obsessions and compulsions.

OCD obsessions are intrusive and unwanted thoughts that cause a great deal of emotional distress and anxiety. When someone has postpartum OCD, they may have obsessions that sound like:

  • “What if I didn’t turn off the stove, and my house burns and kills my baby?”
  • “What if I suddenly become sexually attracted to my baby?”
  • “What if I secretly hate my baby and I kill them?”
  • “What if I trust someone to care for my baby, and they end up kidnapping them?”
  • “What if my baby has become sick because of something I brought into the house?”

Parents with postpartum anxiety also have intrusive thoughts, but OCD obsessions tend to get more “stuck” and hyperfocus on one specific concern. 

When a person with OCD has obsessions, they respond to them with compulsions. OCD compulsions are any sort of ritual or repetitive behavior that the person performs to try to lessen anxiety. For example, a person with postpartum OCD may constantly check their baby to see if they’re still breathing, or compulsively avoid their baby to prevent hurting them. 

Around 2% of new mothers experience symptoms of postpartum OCD, although some reports have placed that number at up to 11%. Research shows that people have a higher chance of developing OCD after giving birth.

Note: Postpartum OCD is often confused with postpartum psychosis, another perinatal psychological concern. These two conditions sometimes appear similar on the surface, but are very different. Most notably, people with OCD have insight that their obsessions are not realistic, while people with psychosis may truly believe their delusions.

What causes postpartum mental health concerns?

Researchers are still studying why some new parents develop postpartum mental health concerns (like depression, anxiety, or OCD) while others don’t. We do know that anyone can be affected by these conditions, and it’s never your fault.

Most experts say that these disorders are caused by genetics, biology, and environment — and often a combination of all three factors.

Genetics is well-known to contribute to the chances of developing mental illness in general. People with family members who have depression, anxiety, or OCD are more likely to have it themselves.

Biology also plays a big part when these conditions come on during pregnancy or the postpartum period. For example, up to 11% of pregnant and postpartum women have OCD, while only 1% of the general population has it. Hormonal changes that happen during the postpartum period may contribute to the higher risk.

Environmental changes during pregnancy and postpartum can also contribute to a higher risk. It’s no secret that being a new parent is stressful and challenging. New parents typically face normal concerns about their child’s well-being. On top of that, they are usually sleep-deprived, have relationship difficulties, and may be unhappy with changes in their body.

All of this can contribute to the development of postpartum psychological concerns, especially if you are already genetically predisposed to them.

TMS therapy: A drug-free treatment option for new parents

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is an innovative and effective treatment option for those facing postpartum psychological concerns like postpartum depression, anxiety, or OCD.

Many people who are pregnant or have recently given birth are hesitant about taking psychiatric medications, and understandably so. Although many medications are safe during pregnancy, others can have detrimental effects on the fetus. Breastfeeding mothers also have concerns about medications affecting their babies.

TMS therapy offers a drug-free alternative for treatment. TMS uses electromagnetic technology to stimulate the areas of your brain that are affected by these postpartum psychological conditions. It is safe and well-tolerated, and most people have fewer side effects with TMS than with medication.

Best of all, it’s effective. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has approved TMS technology as an effective treatment for both depression and OCD. 

SouthernSouthern Colorado TMS is the leading provider of TMS therapy in our region. Get in touch with us today for more information about how we can help you overcome postpartum psychological concerns and start enjoying parenthood.

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