It may be OCD
|If you’re worried about becoming sexually stimulated by breastfeeding your child, it may be a sign that you are suffering from Postpartum OCD.
Here’s what that means. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is characterized by intrusive thoughts, images, doubts, urges, or sensations. These pop into your brain, or you may even feel them in your body. An arousal response to breastfeeding could be a part of this as well.
The worry thought or arousal by breastfeeding sensation (called a “groinal” in OCD communities if felt in the genitals) likely happened suddenly one day while breastfeeding. You may have had immediate feelings of fear, disgust, or shame around this happening. When people with OCD experience something like this, the brain is immediately engaged and interprets the thought or sensation as a threat because of the negative feelings associated with it.
A behavioral response to the intrusion is commonly known as a compulsion. Some compulsive responses associated with this worry might include switching from breastfeeding to formula, asking someone to be in the room while you are holding your child, limiting your child’s contact with certain body parts, or avoiding holding your child altogether.
On the surface, this seems to make a degree of sense, right? Worries about being aroused around a child are very distressing and these compulsive actions reduce someone’s anxiety in the moment. However, the more these compulsions (also known as safety behaviors) are used, the stronger the obsession (worry or sensation) becomes.
Even though the compulsions provide temporary relief, the obsession always pops back up, along with the negative feelings, and the cycle continues. Often, the safety behaviors that worked in the beginning stop working as well anymore, and one might find that they have to do more and more things to find relief from the anxiety. It can feel like life is becoming an endless loop of obsessions and compulsions.
What if my fears are legitimate?
|Intrusive thoughts caused by OCD are ego-dystonic, meaning that they are unwanted. They go against one’s beliefs and values. OCD is well known for attacking the things you care about the most, including your relationship with your child and your performance as a parent.
People who have OCD can experience a lot of self-blame and questioning; they may wonder how their symptoms could happen or if their obsessions are their fault. You should know that while there are genetic and environmental factors related to OCD, it is never clear what causes it. Think of OCD as an entity outside of yourself. Some people choose to label it a bully or a monster. It is not a part of you, but is attacking the things you hold dear.
OCD will tell you that absolute certainty is required for you to “move on” from your thoughts or worries, but it will also continue creating doubt no matter how much energy you spend arguing with it. OCD twists the relationship between possibility and probability.
It will tell you that any chance that something could happen means the likelihood is very high and must be eliminated. It feels like a no-win situation. This is why trying to defeat OCD by changing or challenging thoughts alone is ineffective. There will always be another doubt, and even one doubt is enough to make the worry feel almost impossible to overcome.
How to treat Postpartum OCD related to breastfeeding arousal
|If fears about getting a tingling sensation in your groin when around your newborn are causing you to suffer, you can get better by seeking consultation and therapy with a licensed therapist who specializes in OCD treatment.
The gold standard treatment for any subtype of OCD is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). ERP is a process where a person is gradually and systematically exposed to their own fear and resists the urge to engage in any behavior that would immediately eliminate the fear. As difficult as it may be to accept, anything we might do to immediately alleviate fear could, over time, become the means of maintaining the fear.
Think of a child learning to walk and giving up the task after falling a few times. Due to fear of falling again, the child would be hindered from learning the joys and freedom of movement, and the rest of their life would be spent crawling. Through ERP, people learn that their thoughts do not define who they are or the actions that they take. Therefore, there is no need to do a compulsion, since there really is no need to neutralize the thought: it is simply an insignificant thought, and nothing more.
Here is an example to shed more light on this: Try not to think of a pink elephant. Do not picture a pink elephant in your head at all–no pink elephant thoughts whatsoever. Did you think of one? The answer is probably yes. Here’s another: do not think of anything that you could ever do that might harm a loved one. Have no thoughts whatsoever of any harm coming to anyone you love, and especially be sure that you do not think of any ways that you could be involved in that harm coming to them. Also a difficult task; not only did you probably think of something that would harm a loved one, you also may feel a bit of guilt about it, even though you were guaranteed to think of it in the exercise.
When people have Postpartum OCD concerns, it feels similar—no one wants intrusive thoughts or feelings, and they aren’t to blame for having them. ERP therapy is designed to teach people how to let their thoughts exist without doing anything to try to make them go away. In this way, they can learn to manage OCD long-term.
Though there can be a great deal of guilt and shame that is involved in these intrusive thoughts, OCD thoughts do not mean anything about you, your values, or your identity, and you can learn to live your life with confidence, without OCD interfering with the things you value most.
If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.
We look forward to working with you.