Postpartum OCD: Can You Develop OCD After Giving Birth?
If you have just given birth or will be giving birth in future, it’s common to wonder about perinatal mental health problems, especially if you have had issues with mental health in the past. Perinatal means – during pregnancy and within a year after delivery.
Around 10 to 20% of women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last year will be affected by mental health issues. If you are wondering, ‘can you develop OCD after giving birth?’ – yes, it is a possibility. A percentage of women will experience obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) across pregnancy and the postpartum. In fact, studies show that prevalence of OCD during pregnancy ranges from 0.2%-3.5% and prevalence postpartum ranges from 2.7%-9%, although the rates are thought to be higher. OCD is a condition which causes obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
This can be a stressful experience, especially on top of recovering from birth and caring for your newborn; however, with treatment, it is possible to make daily life easier and more comfortable, and ultimately experience a full recovery.
What Is OCD?
OCD is characterised by obsessions and compulsions. An obsession is an unpleasant repetitive thought or image that is difficult to get rid of, and compulsions (repetitive behaviours) are enacted as a way to temporarily relieve the unpleasant thoughts.
What causes OCD?
The cause of OCD is unclear, but it is thought that there are a variety of contributing factors.
Dr Agnieszka Klimowicz, Consultant Psychiatrist specialising in perinatal mental health at The London Psychiatry Centre explains: “Perinatal OCD is a complex condition, and its exact cause is not fully understood. However, it is believed to be influenced by a combination of factors. These may include hormonal changes during pregnancy and after childbirth, as well as the significant psychological and emotional adjustments that come with becoming a parent. It’s important to note that perinatal OCD is not caused by any personal weakness or failure on your part. Additionally, environmental factors and life stressors can contribute to the onset or exacerbation of the condition.”
Genetic factors may also play a role, as individuals with a family history of OCD or other anxiety disorders may be at a higher risk of developing perinatal OCD.
Women who suffered OCD before conception, might suffer OCD relapse in pregnancy or after delivery, and such relapses can be prevented or minimised by agreeing a care plan with your perinatal psychiatrist.
It’s crucial to remember that perinatal OCD is a treatable condition, and seeking professional help is the first step towards managing and overcoming it.
Common Postnatal Obsessions And Compulsions
Obsessions and compulsions in those with postnatal OCD vary greatly, and may be something very specific based on personal experience or something that the parent has been told or has read in the media.
However, there are some common obsessions and compulsions exhibited by those with postnatal OCD.
Examples of common obsessions in those with postnatal OCD include:
- Intrusive thoughts or images about intentionally harming the baby. Someone with OCD may give undue importance to these thoughts, and although people with OCD do not act on these thoughts, they can certainly cause much distress
- Worries about causing death or injury through an accident or improper care
- Fears that the baby will develop a serious disease or illness
- Unwanted images of sexual abuse
- Concerns that someone else may hurt the baby
Examples of common compulsions include:
- Constantly checking on the baby
- Waking the baby up while they’re asleep to check on them
- Meticulously cleaning the baby
- Not giving the baby required medicines for fear that they may come to harm
- Keeping the baby hidden or preventing other people from seeing them
- Repeatedly asking others for reassurance that the baby is okay
Treatments For Perinatal OCD
Dr Agnieszka Klimowicz says: “Those with mild OCD may be able to recognise their obsessions and compulsions and adapt their life to accommodate their condition. However, this may not be possible for everyone, and it is possible for OCD to get worse over time if left untreated. Severe OCD can greatly impact daily life, including how you care for your baby and yourself. This is why it is important to seek a diagnosis and get treatment as early as possible. We will work together to develop a personalised treatment plan that best addresses your needs and supports your recovery.”
Treatments for postnatal OCD include talking therapies, medication, or a combination of the two.
Talking therapies: It is very common for OCD to be treated with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP), both of which are talking therapies.
CBT involves teaching coping skills which enable you to challenge the patterns of thought that lead to compulsions, and allow you to better deal with the compulsions as they come.
ERP involves confronting obsessions, and working towards preventing yourself carrying out compulsions. This will begin with manageable exercises, and will become more challenging as your therapy progresses.
There is no limit to how many times you can undergo talking therapy, so if treatment has been unsuccessful with one therapist, there is no reason why you should not try the treatment again with another.
Medication: The most common medicine prescribed for OCD is a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which can help improve OCD symptoms.
Self Care Tips For Perinatal OCD: What You Can Do At Home
If you are pregnant or you had a baby in the last year, and you are experiencing symptoms of OCD, you should seek the help of a professional to ensure that your condition does not worsen.
However, while you are seeking treatment, there are things that you can do at home to help manage your OCD and get the best chance of improving your condition. These include:
- Making those you trust aware of your condition
- Asking for support in caring for your baby
- Establishing a simple daily routine for yourself and your baby to ensure that you both get enough sleep, follow an appropriate diet and get enough social engagement
- Attending an OCD support group
- Reaching out to a specialist charity such as OCD Action, OCD UK, or MaternalOCD
Our team of experienced mental health professionals can help provide effective treatment for perinatal OCD. Get in touch with us using the below contact details.