top of page
  • Writer's pictureAshley O'Connor

Understanding Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a lesser-known but significant mental health condition that can affect new mothers following childbirth. It can be similar to anxiety and can even co-occur alongside of other mental health conditions such as depression.While becoming a parent is often associated with joy and excitement, it can also trigger intrusive and distressing thoughts, fears, and compulsions in some individuals. Understanding the symptoms, causes, and available support for postpartum OCD is crucial for affected mothers and their families.

Symptoms of Postpartum OCD:

Postpartum OCD is characterized by the presence of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that revolve around the baby or parenthood. Some common symptoms may include:

  1. Intrusive thoughts: Recurrent, unwanted, and distressing thoughts or mental images related to harm coming to the baby, such as fears of accidental harm or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

  2. Compulsive behaviors: Repetitive behaviors or rituals performed to alleviate anxiety or prevent harm to the baby, such as checking on the baby excessively, seeking reassurance from others, or avoiding certain activities or situations.

  3. Hyper-vigilance: Constant monitoring of the baby's well-being, including frequent checking of breathing, body temperature, or signs of illness, even when there are no indications of a problem.

  4. Extreme anxiety or fear: Intense worry or fear about being unable to protect or care for the baby, leading to heightened stress levels and difficulty functioning.

  5. Guilt and shame: Feelings of guilt or shame associated with the intrusive thoughts and compulsions, as well as fear of being judged by others or deemed unfit as a parent.

It's important to recognize that postpartum OCD differs from typical concerns or worries that new parents may experience. The obsessions and compulsions associated with postpartum OCD are distressing, unwanted, and interfere with daily functioning.

Causes of Postpartum OCD:

The exact cause of postpartum OCD is not fully understood, but several factors may contribute to its development:

  1. Hormonal changes: Fluctuations in hormone levels during pregnancy and after childbirth may influence brain chemistry and contribute to the onset of OCD symptoms.

  2. Biological vulnerability: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to OCD or other anxiety disorders, which can be triggered or exacerbated by the stress and hormonal changes associated with childbirth.

  3. Psychological factors: Pre-existing anxiety, perfectionism, or traumatic experiences, such as childbirth complications or previous pregnancy loss, can increase the risk of developing postpartum OCD.

  4. Lack of social support: Feeling isolated or unsupported by family and friends during the postpartum period can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and contribute to OCD symptoms.

Support and Treatment for Postpartum OCD:

Seeking help and support is essential for managing postpartum OCD effectively. Treatment options may include:

  1. Therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), particularly exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, is considered the gold standard for treating OCD. Therapy can help individuals identify and challenge irrational thoughts, reduce compulsive behaviors, and develop healthier coping strategies.

  2. Medication: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressant medications, are often prescribed to help alleviate symptoms of OCD. It's important for women to consult with their healthcare provider to discuss the potential risks and benefits, especially if breastfeeding.

  3. Support groups: Connecting with other mothers who have experienced postpartum OCD can provide validation, understanding, and practical advice for coping with symptoms.

  4. Self-care: Engaging in self-care activities such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce stress and promote emotional well-being.

  5. Social support: Building a strong support network of understanding family members, friends, and healthcare professionals who can offer practical assistance and emotional support is crucial for recovery.

Seeking Help for Postpartum OCD:

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of postpartum OCD, it's important to seek help from a healthcare provider who specializes in perinatal mental health. It is important to remember that there are many causes and factors which can lead to the development of this disorder. If you are struggling with this disorder please remember that having these feelings does not mean that you are a "bad" mother or that you are not grateful for your mothering experience. It is also likely something that you cannot overcome alone. Many people try to ignore their symptoms or write them off as typical feelings for a new mother. Postpartum OCD can have a significant impact on a mother's well-being and her ability to care for herself and her baby. With the right support and treatment, women can learn to manage their symptoms and enjoy a fulfilling and healthy postpartum

experience. Remember, you're not alone, and help is available.

Please note this article is not meant to diagnose or treat any disorder and is not a substitute for medical treatment. If you or a loved one are experiencing any symptoms please reach out to a licensed mental health or medical provider immediately.

9 views0 comments


bottom of page