Updated: Jul 7
You’ve probably heard about postpartum depression, and may even know what it’s like to have postpartum depression (if not, see our blog post How to Recognize Postpartum Depression). And you may know that a lot of new moms can also have postpartum anxiety. But most likely you’ve never heard about postpartum OCD or knew it was a thing. Well, it is a thing, and it’s fairly common – up to 57% of women who have postpartum depression or anxiety also experience some symptoms of postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder, or postpartum OCD.
What is Postpartum OCD?
Postpartum OCD is a specific type of postpartum anxiety. Postpartum anxiety is characterized by excessive worry, ruminating thoughts, agitation, and even panic attacks. Postpartum OCD describes particular types of worries, thoughts, images, and behaviors that are associated with having a baby. We can term these types of obsessive thoughts and images as “scary thoughts” that usually cause much distress in the mother.
Examples of such scary thoughts may be a fear of hurting your baby, to the extent that you think about it constantly, for several hours a day. Or images in your mind of your baby being in the hospital, sick or hurt because of something that you neglected to do, like thoroughly clean your baby’s lovey or pacifier. Then you spend excessive time cleaning everything you or your baby comes into contact with, to the point where you’re unable to do anything else.
What are Symptoms of Postpartum OCD?
Every woman experiences postpartum OCD differently, and will have different symptoms, with some being more prevalent than others. Here are some more common symptoms of postpartum OCD:
Repetitive thoughts, urges or images that you cannot get out of your mind that cause anxiety and distress
Excessive worry about harming your baby
Extreme doubts or fears that cause you to do avoid certain things to prevent your fears from occurring
Feeling like your worrying is out of control
Ruminating thoughts, feeling like they are racing or spinning in your head
Fear of germs, that you or your baby may get sick, that impacts your normal functioning
Doing certain actions or behaviors in a certain order or way, or checking and rechecking things
Some ways that these symptoms come out in different women may include excessive hand washing, counting, or touching things in a certain order. You may repeat things over and over until the action is done “right”, or you may clean obsessively.
One way to tell if what you’re doing is excessive or if it is having an impact on your life is to compare what you’re doing now to what you did prior to having a baby. Is it different? How different? How much time are you spending thinking about things, worrying, or performing certain actions and behaviors? What you’re doing is excessive if it’s taking much more time or causing much more distress than prior to being pregnant and having a baby.
Who gets Postpartum OCD?
Like postpartum depression, any woman can get postpartum OCD. However, if you have had anxiety or struggled with excessive worry prior to having a child, your worry and anxiety may increase during the postpartum period. The postpartum period covers any time after having a baby up to a year afterwards, although symptoms can continue on beyond that first year.
If you tend to have a lot of self-doubt, or expect yourself to be a perfect mother, you are more at-risk of developing different types of postpartum anxiety including but not limited to postpartum OCD. Many if not most women who get postpartum OCD are ashamed of your symptoms, or embarrassed, and thus strive to hide what you’re thinking or doing from your loved ones.
When to get treatment for Postpartum OCD
Another thing that describes women who have postpartum OCD, or symptoms of it, from women who don’t is the level of distress it causes you. Most if not all women have scary thoughts after having a baby, but many women are able distract themselves from the thoughts or reason themselves out of the scary thoughts. However, if you are prone to anxiety or worry already, you know it’s not easy to stop your anxiety. Just telling yourself to stop worrying, or stop doing the compulsive things you’re doing, doesn’t work.
When your level of distress over your thoughts and actions/behaviors reaches the point where it’s excessive, on top of your sleep deprivation, hormonal changes and adjustment to motherhood, and you’re feeling depressed, overwhelmed or exhausted, it’s time to get help.
Help for postpartum OCD can come in many ways. Educating yourself about postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum OCD can be extremely helpful. Knowing that you’re not crazy, and that you’re not alone, can have a profound impact on how you feel.
A great book that I often recommend to my clients is Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts by Karen Kleiman. This is a good place to start for understanding your scary thoughts. Other ways you can get treatment:
Seek out counseling with an experienced postpartum therapist
Talk to your doctor or OB/GYN about how you’re feeling and what you’re doing
Share your experiences with your partner, husband, or a supportive friend or family member
Join a postpartum support group
Postpartum OCD can be terribly scary to experience, especially if you are going through it alone. Sharing with others how you’re feeling and learning more about postpartum OCD can really make a difference in recovering from postpartum concerns. You can recover, you can get treatment, and you can feel better. Postpartum OCD is something that happens to you, not something that you are.
How We Can Help
We are currently enrolling for our online postpartum support group!
For postpartum moms who are ready to go from feeling lonely and overwhelmed to connected and understood.
If you or your partner are looking for postpartum support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you, follow these simple steps:
Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation
Begin your journey towards a calmer, more relaxing life
Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:
Here at Catalyss Counseling, we want to meet all of your counseling needs in the Denver area. Our supportive therapists provide depression counseling, therapy for caregiver stress, grief and loss therapy, stress management counseling and more. We also have specialists in trauma and PTSD, women's issues, pregnancy and postpartum depression or anxiety, pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and birth trauma. For therapists, we can also provide clinical supervision! We look forward to connecting with you to help support your journey today.
Shannon Heers is a psychotherapist, clinical supervisor, guest blogger, and owner of Catalyss Counseling in Englewood, CO. Shannon helps adults in professional careers manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, and grief and loss. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.