Postnatal anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder

Postnatal anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder

By Liz Lockhart

Parents are well aware that the birth of baby can evoke many emotions, from happiness and excitement to fear and uncertainty.  A new report describes a programme which the researchers have developed to help reduce anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders that can also accompany childbirth.

Whilst postnatal depression has had a high profile it is less understood that the birth of a child can also bring on feelings of extreme anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

The principal investigator of the study, Kiara Timpano says ‘Postpartum depression has received much attention, but anxiety-related issues, especially obsessive compulsive symptoms, can also be devastating to mothers and their families’.

‘Many women experiencing these difficulties are not getting the services they need because they don’t even know that what they are experiencing has a label and can be helped’ she added.

Timpano and her collaborators from the University of Miami (UM) have developed a programme to prevent  postnatal obsessive compulsive symptoms in response to this need.

The findings are reported online by the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

It is natural for new mothers to have some feelings of concern about their babies but some mothers experience a more severe form of anxiety known as postpartum OCD.  This condition includes disturbing thoughts about bad things happening to the baby.

To control these unpleasant thoughts, the mothers develop rituals or other behaviours such as checking the baby excessively or washing a baby bottle many more times than is necessary.

‘The problem with OCD is that it is like a radio that’s turned up too high’ Timpano said.  ‘Part of our work is trying to figure out how it got turned up so high and how we can help individuals turn it back down.  For example, while it’s okay to ash the baby bottle once, it is problematic if a mother ends up washing it for hours at a time.’

Timpano and colleagues decided to develop and test the effectiveness of an intervention that would not only treat mothers once their difficulties emerged, but could also prevent symptoms from developing.

The team designed a prevention programme based on cognitive behavioural therapy.  This treatment technique has been found to be very effective for anxiety disorders in general.  This programme was then incorporated into a traditional childbirth education class.

‘We wanted to provide mothers with the necessary tools, which would hopefully keep them from going on to develop substantial symptoms that would interfere in their lives’ Timpano said.

The effectiveness of the programme was evaluated among a group of 71 expectant mothers at risk of developing postnatal OCD symptoms.  Half of the group was in a class that included the prevention programme whilst the other half was in a regular class.

The mothers were followed for six months after the birth of their babies.  Investigators determined that the prevention programme was successful in reducing both the incidence of obsessive compulsive symptoms and the intensity of distress.

The mothers in the prevention programme experienced less anxiety after the babies were born and they maintained this effect for at least six months after the birth of their baby.  The researchers also found that the intervention reduced the ‘thinking styles’ that put the mothers at risk to begin with.

Timpano said that in the future, researchers would like to develop a programme that would include screening or postpartum anxiety on the same scale and frequency as what is currently performed for postpartum depression.

Source: University of Miami



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