Post-Partum OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder): Is That A Thing?

Germs. The dreaded word heard most often in the wintertime. It becomes even scarier after having a baby. Many of us know how intense the paranoia, fear, and outright protective mama bear mode is after giving birth. Not letting anyone touch our bundle of joy without a thorough hand sanitizing, rough hand scrubbing, and a shedding of all clothes worn in public transportation or even in the outdoors. There is a fine line to toe when being the mother of a newborn. Not being too overbearing and too overly sensitive to imaginary germs and not being too lax about the germ-ridden relatives who don’t use tissues and have the flu. However, there comes a time in many Mamas’ lives when they cross over to the dark side for a little bit. I call it the Post-Pregnancy Germaphobia. However, there is germaphobia and then there is something very different and more serious: Post-Partum OCD.

There are many studies that say that pregnancy may worsen or bring on symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder in some women — suggesting, that certain cases of the disorder involve abnormal responses to hormonal changes. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is an anxiety disorder in which people have persistent, unwanted thoughts that compel them to repeat routines and rituals over and over. An obsession with germs or cleanliness, for example, may drive a person to wash his or her hands constantly throughout the day.

Studies have found that OCD can also arise during or soon after pregnancy, and that pregnancy may worsen OCD symptoms in some women who already have the disorder. A 2010 study confirms and extends those findings, according to lead researcher Dr. Ariadna Forray, of Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. Using medical records and interviews with 126 women treated at the Yale OCD Clinic, the researchers found that of the 78 women who had ever been pregnant, 24 (32 percent) had their first OCD symptoms during or soon after pregnancy. And when the researchers looked at pregnancies among women with pre-existing OCD, they found that the women’s OCD symptoms worsened one-third of the time.

Mental health is an important aspect of a woman’s health post-partum. It should be a main topic of discussion after your baby is looked at and you are cleared physically. Many women hide symptoms from their healthcare professionals not realizing how severe the repercussions may be. Worrying, of course, is a normal part of new motherhood – checking that the car seat is secure or that the baby is still breathing for example but if it interferes with your life so that you can’t think about other things or take care of yourself or your baby, then it verges on mental illness.

A Harvard study in 2018 found that new moms who suffered OCD symptoms had many similar thoughts and behaviors, such as worrying about dirt and germs. For some of these women, the concerns escalated into repetitive behaviors such as washing their hands until they chafed. Many of the women were also plagued by repetitive fears of harming their babies and constant violent images in their heads.

A second study, published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics in April 2018, looked at more than 1000 women who gave birth at Penn State Hershey Medical Center and found that they were more than twice as likely to suffer from anxiety after giving birth than postpartum depression. While only 6 percent of the women in the study reported symptoms of depression, 17 percent had anxious feelings, such as being nervous and confused during their hospital stay. However, the feelings did not last in most women; by two weeks and six months after childbirth, only 7 percent had anxiety and only 6 percent had depression.

Being nervous about being a first-time mom is normal. Being scared that your baby will get sick is also normal. Being dead scared about being a mom is very very okay. However, if any of the OCD symptoms mentioned above sounds like what you feel it is imperative you see a mental health professional and your doctor.

Shoshi W.
Shoshi is an undergraduate student at Stern College for Women in New York City. Her areas of interest include policy, non-profit organizations, and administration. During winter 2018, she was a White House intern. Shoshi has also interned at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and at Save the Children in New York. As a millennial, Shoshi brings a young and fresh perspective to the worlds of pregnancy and lactation.

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