Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (ocd)

Although it can be extremely distressing to women who are affected by it, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (PPOCD) is one of the most under-reported and under-diagnosed postpartum mood disorders. While experts aren’t exactly sure how many women are actually affected by PPOCD, it is estimated that 2% to 3% of new mothers will suffer from the disorder.

Defining the Disorder
PPOCD is not all that different from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Those affected by OCD tend to have obsessive thoughts, impulses or images which cause the individual to have a great deal of anxiety, disgust and discomfort. These feelings of anxiety and distress lead the person with OCD to have compulsive urges and develop rituals to help ease their discomfort.

What differentiates PPOCD from OCD is the fact that women with PPOCD tend to focus their obsessive thoughts on their new baby. While women with this disorder may be prone to bizarre thoughts, they are acutely aware of the fact that their feelings are not normal. However, some women with the disorder are reluctant to seek help for fear that they will be looked down upon for their peculiar thoughts and fears.

Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Symptoms
Typical symptoms of PPOCD and the rituals that many women establish to cope with their obsessive thoughts can be time consuming and interfere with their regular activities. Signs of postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder include:

  • Intrusive, recurrent and obsessive thoughts, usually involving the baby
  • Avoidance behavior, possibly of the baby but generally anything that will cause fear
  • Establishing rituals which include:
    • Repetitive behavior (touching every door knob you pass)
    • Obsessive cleaning and/or washing
    • Hoarding (done to combat fear of losing objects)
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Fear

Women affected by PPOCD usually experience obsessive thoughts about harming their baby, which can result in repetitive behavior. For example, a woman who is afraid that her child’s bottle is contaminated will repeatedly sterilizing the baby’s bottle. Some women may also harbor fears that they will harm their child in some way, such as drowning the child during bath time. However, while these fears can be especially disturbing, very few mothers with this particular disorder are likely to actually cause themselves or their child any harm.

Women at Risk
Having a personal or familial history of OCD can increase your chances of developing PPOCD. Additionally, if you develop an obsessive-compulsive disorder during your pregnancy, you are more than two times as likely to have PPOCD.

Women who have already been diagnosed with OCD prior to becoming pregnant may find that their symptoms worsen during the postpartum period. However, other women may develop the disorder for the first time during the postpartum period.

Seeking Treatment
It is important that women affected by PPOCD seek professional help. Left untreated, PPOCD can impede a woman’s ability to cope as well as interfere in her relationship with her partner, family, friends and child.

Women with PPOCD have several treatment options available to them. Anti-obsession medication is one form of therapy. This may be used on its own or in combination with other forms of treatment. However, some women may not receive it at all.

Different psychological approaches are also often used to help those with PPOCD. Various types of counseling can be utilized to help women, including couples therapy, support groups, interpersonal therapy and cognitive behavior therapy. The main aim of this therapy is to help women change their behavior and the way in which they act in order to help them gain control over their PPOCD.

Many women have also benefited from a social approach to therapy. Through this treatment, women are able to learn coping strategies. Additionally, because this approach involves a woman’s partner, family and friends, she is able to build a network of social support.

Because of the different treatment methods, it is possible for each woman to have a very personalized therapy that will be the most beneficial to her. With proper care and treatment, it is possible for a woman to overcome this disorder.