Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD in Pregnant and New Mothers

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by repetitive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and irrational, excessive urges to do certain actions (compulsions).

Some women develop OCD during pregnancy or after childbirth. This is called perinatal OCD and is more common after giving birth. 

Having a baby changes your life and can be very stressful. It’s normal to have some worries and anxieties about your baby’s wellbeing. You will also want to protect your baby from risks, so you will do things to minimize them, such as sterilize feeding bottles or occasionally check on them as they sleep.

But you may have perinatal OCD if you spend a lot of time thinking about these worries and anxieties and develop obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors because of them.

For example:

  • you may have obsessive thoughts about your baby being harmed by germs or infections and so spend a long time cleaning or sterilizing things multiple times.

  • you may have obsessional thoughts about your baby stopping breathing and so check your baby constantly.

You may have a picture in your mind about hurting your baby in some way. This can be very frightening but we know that women with OCD do not act on these thoughts.

Perinatal OCD is more likely to happen to first-time mothers, but you can have it during or after any pregnancy.

What causes OCD?

It’s not clear exactly what causes OCD, but you are more likely to develop the condition if you:

  • have a relative with OCD

  • have had OCD before

  • are under a lot of stress

  • have experienced an important life event, such as childbirth or bereavement

  • are a neat, organized person with high personal standards.

How common is Perinatal OCD?

OCD affects about 1 in every 100 women in pregnancy. This is like the rates in the general population. Perinatal OCD is more common after birth than in pregnancy. About 2 to 3 in every 100 women are affected by perinatal OCD in the year after giving birth.

Signs that you may be experiencing OCD 

  • Intrusive, repetitive thoughts - usually of harm coming to baby (ego-dystonic thoughts)

  • Horrified by these thoughts

  • Intense feelings of shame, guilt, or inadequacy

  • Hypervigilance

OCD symptoms

  • Obsessions, also called intrusive thoughts, which are persistent, repetitive thoughts or mental images related to the baby. These thoughts are very upsetting and not something the woman has ever experienced before.

  • Compulsions, where the mom may do certain things over and over again to reduce her fears and obsessions. This may include things like needing to clean constantly, check things many times, count, or reorder things.

  • A sense of horror about the obsessions

  • Fear of being left alone with the infant

  • Hypervigilance in protecting the infant

  • Moms with postpartum OCD know that their thoughts are bizarre and are very unlikely to ever act on them.

What should I do?

It’s important to tell your doctor if you are having any of the signs or symptoms of OCD. 

 

Some women may feel embarrassed about the thoughts they have and the repeated actions they are doing to control their anxieties or fear. If you are concerned try to remember that OCD is a common mental health condition. It can affect anyone at any age and is not your fault. 

Things that you can do: 

  • Talk to your partner, family, or friend about how you are feeling.

  • Try not to feel guilty or embarrassed. These thoughts are not your fault and you are not ‘going mad’.

  • Instead of trying to avoid or ‘fix’ your obsessive thoughts with a compulsive action, try to face them. Spend half an hour a day writing them down and reading them.

  • Don’t use alcohol or smoke to calm yourself down. Both can harm you and your baby.

  • Use a self-help book. You can find some recommendations below.

Where To Get Help

Don’t be afraid to reach out if you or someone you know needs help. Learning all you can about mental health is an important first step.

Reach out to your health insurance, primary care doctor, or state/country mental health authority for more resources.

Contact the PPSC SupportLine to find out what services and supports are available in your community. 

If you or someone you know needs help now, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911.

CONCERNED ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL? 

Wondering where to turn for help? Doing a self-assessment for depression, anxiety, or OCD can help.

ARE YOU FEELING ALONE?

Practical and emotional support are important in protecting against perinatal mental health disorders. Take this survey to see how your social support system measures up.

If you are having suicidal thoughts or are concerned about someone else who may be suicidal, please call the Buckelew Suicide Prevention Hotline: 

For Sonoma County: 1-855-587-6373

For Marin County: 415-499-1100

For Grief Support: 415-499-1195

National Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

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