What is postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder?
Postpartum obsessive-compulsive symptoms occur in about 3-5% of women. Onset may be in pregnancy up until a year after childbirth.
What are the symptoms?
Postpartum OCD involves repetitive, intrusive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and behavior designed to avoid or relieve the thoughts (compulsions). One may feel afraid of being alone with the baby or hyper-vigilance in protecting the baby. OCD is an anxiety disorder, and like women struggling with postpartum anxiety, someone with PPOCD may experience excessive worry and scary thoughts. We refer to them as "scary thoughts" because they may involve images of self-harm or harm to baby. However, someone with OCD is very, very unlikely to act upon any of these obsessive thoughts. A woman experiencing OCD will generally feel very disturbed by these thoughts, and know they are not normal, which unfortunately can lead to not seeking treatment or delaying treatment. But, as with postpartum anxiety, these thoughts are symptoms! Just as the sniffles are to a cold, disturbing thoughts can be a symptom of a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder.
Why does it happen?
A personal or family history of anxiety or OCD is a main risk factor. Other stressful life events (moving, new job, financial stress, marital stress; complications in pregnancy, delivery, feeding, or health of the infant) can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and OCD.
What is the treatment?
Postpartum OCD is a very treatable! Talk therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, has shown to be effective in treating this condition. Medication may be utilized. Education about the nature of obsessive thoughts and compulsions is essential. And as always, practicing self-compassion is incredibly important in the face of any perinatal mood or anxiety disorder.
Please know: You are not alone! You will not feel this way forever! The sooner you start treatment, the sooner you will feel better.