Postpartum Anxiety, Panic & OCD

Postpartum Anxiety, Panic & OCD

In honor of Maternal Mental Health in May, let’s look more closely at postpartum anxiety, panic, and obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD). Postpartum anxiety, panic and OCD is part of a broader classification of postpartum mood disorders, which also includes postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. 

Postpartum anxiety disorders are very common in women, often occurring immediately or within 4-6 weeks after giving birth. Postpartum anxiety is characterized by fearful and distressing thoughts or feelings after the birth of the baby.

The reasons for postpartum anxiety can be multifactorial, involving a rapid change of hormones, situational factors (acute life stress) and health history (such as depression and anxiety before or during pregnancy).  Postpartum anxiety can also occur as a result of traumatic events during a pregnancy and birth, such as a miscarriage, preterm birth and birth complications. Sometimes interpersonal problems like intimate partner violence or unintended pregnancy is a strong factor.¹  

Unaddressed feelings of anxiety can spill over into panic attacks. The physical symptoms are often described as: heart palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, numbness and tingling, chills, hot flashes, or a fear of dying or losing control.²  

Sometimes, in an effort to control unwanted thoughts and feelings, compulsions develop. A mother’s compulsions may temporarily soothe obsessive, unwanted thoughts about the baby getting hurt or contaminated. Therefore, a mother might engage in rituals that involve repeatedly checking on the baby and mental rituals such as repeating words and prayers. She may excessively bathe the baby or avoid bathing or holding the newborn all together. Often, these mothers need repeated reassurance from their partners.¹ 

Understandably, postpartum OCD can put strain on a partnership. Mothers may struggle with sleeping because of obsessive compulsive urges that wake them or prevent them from falling asleep at all. The OCD may escalate to a level where mother/baby bonding is inhibited and she struggles to care for the baby. So often, OCD works in tandem with postpartum depression, leading to other feelings of sadness, helplessness, suicidal thinking, and lack of appetite and self-care. 

Making a Recovery Plan from Postpartum Anxiety Disorders

The first step in recovery from postpartum anxiety, panic and OCD is recognizing the symptoms. Next, reach out to your provider to make an appointment for an evaluation. You can get a head start by completing a depression screening to start thinking about the type and frequency or your symptoms. Journaling your thoughts and feelings in a daily log will help to organize your symptoms as well. 

Your provider may recommend prescription medicine to get you through this period of stress. Your provider can make a referral for a therapist as well. Modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help you develop the insight and tools necessary to make positive life adjustments. 

Many mothers also adopt mindfulness practices like meditation that help them focus on the present, as well as set realistic expectations in new motherhood and partnership. 

Depression and anxiety often erodes self-care, as a loss of appetite and quality sleep often occur. It’s important to use the tools that become available to reclaim the basic elements of self-care: good nutrition, quality sleep, and exercise. These basic elements are the foundation of a mother’s health. A mother cannot give to her newborn, partner or family from an empty vessel. She, herself, must be filled regularly through consistent self-care, as well as regular doses of love, appreciation, and support, from her partner, friends, family and community. 

For information on maternal mental health support and resources in your area, click here.



  1. International OCD Foundation. (2023). Postpartum and perinatal OCD.
  2. Lowdermilk et al. (2016). Maternity and women’s health care. Elsevier Inc.
  3. Photo by MART PRODUCTION: A Fearful Woman Having Claustrophobia in a Cardboard Box.
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