But instead of going away, the images intensified. She would imagine her daughter Julia’s neck snapping. Being around knives made her chest tighten and her breathing get shallow—she just couldn’t shake the feeling that knives were a danger and shouldn’t be near the baby. “When I was making coffee, I was sure I was going to scald her. I saw her spinning around in the dryer.
“The postpartum period is especially vulnerable for relapse or onset of OCD,” says Deirdre Ryan, psychiatrist and medical director of B.C. Children’s Hospital’s Reproductive Mental Health Program. A Canadian study from 2016 found that 3.6 percent of pregnant women experience postpartum OCD, while it’s estimated that 1.6 percent of women experience OCD that’s not tied to pregnancy.
It becomes a problem when the thoughts or images are time-consuming and start to interfere with your ability to take care of yourself or your baby. Stephenson, for example, started getting nervous in parking lots, getting a visceral feeling that Julia would get run over if she put her infant car seat down for a moment to reach for her keys or put the groceries in the trunk. She was afraid to be alone with Julia.
The good news: postpartum OCD is treatable. If you’re having strange or unwanted images or thoughts about your baby, Vigod suggests bringing it up with your doctor. She may be able to normalize what you’re going through, which could be enough to get you through the first few weeks after delivery until the thoughts subside. But if they are affecting your day-to-day life, ask for a referral to a mental health clinic.
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