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What is Postpartum OCD?

written by: Kristina Dems • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 8/28/2010

Postpartum OCD is a form of OCD that usually affects mothers who have just given birth, but it also occurs in new fathers. The disorder is treatable and is usually temporary.

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    Postpartum OCD

    Mother and Baby Postpartum OCD is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder where a new mother experiences either the strong urge to protect her baby from any possible threat or hurt the baby herself. Some mothers who suffer from this disorder will often have intrusive thoughts about their baby. Some mothers are naturally protective especially when it comes to their loved ones, so this disorder is often undiagnosed. A lot of mothers without this disorder will experience the same symptoms that mothers with postpartum OCD also experience, making it an often misunderstood disorder.

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    Symptoms of Postpartum OCD

    This form of OCD has different symptoms and they will vary from mother to mother. Symptoms include intrusive thoughts that repeat regularly in the mother's mind, usually about harming or protecting the baby. These thoughts are new to her so it will cause her a lot of distress and upset behavior. These intrusive thoughts and her anxiety will drive her to perform compulsions just to relieve her fears, anxiety and obsessions. Obsessing over the order of things, cleaning everything and checking all kinds of equipment and tools related to the baby is a common sign that a mother is suffering from postpartum OCD.

    Because these new thoughts are bombarding her mind, she will often have a sense of horror and/or fear, uncertain if these are normal thoughts; and she'll wonder how she can make it all go away. Some of the most disturbing symptoms of this disorder include the mother's need to protect her baby by cleaning the milk bottles excessively, performing hand washing rituals, keeping the baby away from friends and even family members, and a fear that if she is left alone with the baby, she might do something wrong and harm her baby in some way.

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    Causes

    There are two main causes of postpartum OCD that experts agree upon. The first almost obvious cause is hormonal fluctuations, which are normal occurrences during the pregnancy period. As the pregnancy ends, oxytocin and progesterone, two hormones that play a role in the termination of the pregnancy, become abundant. They will most likely be in flux as the mother recovers from giving birth. This hormonal imbalance is very likely to lead to OCD, but further studies need to be done to confirm this.

    The other main cause of postpartum OCD is a psychological one. Some parents will take the responsibility of caring for a new human as something that is too intense for them, causing them to have weird and unusual thoughts about the baby's safety. These thoughts will make them second guess their ability to be good parents and will increase their fear of failure in taking care of the baby. Notice that the word I used was “parents” and not “mothers”. This is because postpartum OCD can also occur in fathers, which makes this second cause of the disorder more likely than the biological one.

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    Treating Postpartum OCD

    Postpartum OCD is usually temporary and is easily treatable by able professionals. At the first signs of symptoms of this disorder, it is recommended that you or your loved one gets checked by a professional immediately because untreated cases of this disorder may lead to a more serious form of OCD.

    You may also want to read another recommended Brighthub article on OCD and how they interfere with your life.

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    References

    Post Partum - Pregnancy or Postpartum OCD

    International OCD Foundation - Beyond the Blues: Postpartum OCD

    Photo Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos / by Tom Clare