Did you know about postnatal OCD?
30 Sep 2012
How might OCD appear in pregnancy and postnatally?
ARTICLE FROM www.postnatalocd.org by Dr Fiona Challacombe
Perinatal OCD most commonly revolves around significant fear of harm coming to the infant, with worries frequently focused on accidentally harming the child, the child becoming ill or deliberately harming the child. It is important to note that the occasional experience of all of these worries is absolutely normal and indeed very common in mums and mums to be. However, some people find themselves so distressed that they will take measures to manage their anxiety or prevent their fears coming true. In this way the thoughts and behaviours can interfere significantly with their wellbeing and their experiences of pregnancy and parenting. It is the extent of and response to the worries, rather than just having them that becomes the problem.
For example, in pregnancy a woman may be very concerned that something she eats or touches may cause harm to the unborn baby. This may cause her to avoid and restrict foods, places and situations well beyond the recommended guidelines in order to keep as safe as possible, or at least feel that she has done everything in her power to do so. She may spend large amounts of time cleaning and washing and ask those around her to do the same. Women with such concerns may seek excessive reassurance from friends, family and professionals that the baby is developing ok and that her behaviour is ‘safe’ and will seldom be reassured by the answers given. Postnatally, these concerns may revolve around other illnesses of childhood with mums taking measures such as excessively checking their child when asleep so that she does not sleep or relax at all herself.
Another common theme of perinatal OCD is thoughts of deliberately harming your own child. After the birth, many parents experience occasional fleeting thoughts that they may deliberately harm their baby, but are able to dismiss these as meaningless. Some women interpret the very fact that they have these thoughts as meaning that they may act on them and become frightened about their potential to harm their child in a moment of madness. They may then avoid contact with the baby or take special measures to stay ‘safe’ around them such as hiding knives and sharp objects in the home.
It may be particularly difficult for mums firstly to recognize their experiences as OCD and then to seek help due to the shame and secrecy associated with the disorder, especially at a time when they and those around them expect them to feel happy. As there is often a lack of awareness of OCD during pregnancy and postnatally, people are rarely asked about these experiences by professionals. If you think that you might have symptoms it may be up to you to suggest that you have OCD and ask for an assessment by someone who knows about this problem.
Until recently OCD in pregnancy and after having a baby (perinatal OCD) had received very little research attention. However recent studies suggest that OCD is more common at this time than other times in life, with 2-4% of women experiencing clinical levels of symptoms. Some people develop OCD for the first time either during pregnancy or afterwards, whilst others find that pre-existing symptoms worsen. However, some people can feel better in pregnancy.