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Prevention Program for Postpartum Anxiety Disorders

A new report describes a program that helps to reduce anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders that may accompany childbirth.

Parents know that the birth of a baby can elicit many emotions, from joy and excitement to fear and uncertainty.

Birthing can also spawn mood disorders ranging from post-partum depression to difficulties with anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

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

“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.”

In response to this need, Timpano and her collaborators from the University of Miami (UM) developed a program to prevent of postpartum obsessive compulsive symptoms.

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

While it is natural for new mothers to have some thoughts of concern about their babies, some mothers experience a more severe form of anxiety known as postpartum OCD.

The condition includes disturbing thoughts about bad things happening to the baby.

In order to control these unpleasant thoughts, the mothers develop rituals or other behaviors in response, like 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 says.

“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 wash the baby bottle once, it is problematic if a mother ends up washing it for hours at a time.”

Timpano and her research collaborators 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.

Accordingly, the team designed a prevention program based on cognitive behavioral therapy principle – a treatment technique that has been found to be highly effective for anxiety disorders.

The program was incorporated it into a traditional childbirth educational 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 says.

Researchers evaluated the effectiveness of the program among a group of 71 expecting mothers at risk for developing postpartum obsessive compulsive symptoms. Half of the group was in a class that included the prevention program, the other half was in a regular childbirth education class (control group).

The mothers were followed for six months after the birth of their babies. Key aspects of the behavioral intervention included education on the warning signs of anxiety and OCD, as well as specific techniques for how to deal with the symptoms.

Investigators determined the prevention program was successful in reducing both the incidence of obsessive compulsive symptoms and the intensity of distress.

Compared to the control group, the mothers in the prevention program experienced less anxiety after the babies were born and they maintained this effect for at least six months postpartum. The team also found that the intervention reduced those thinking styles that put a mom at risk to begin with.

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

Source: University of Miami

Prevention Program for Postpartum Anxiety Disorders

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Prevention Program for Postpartum Anxiety Disorders. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 19 Aug 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.