Babies are meant to be loved, cared for, kept safe and protected. However there is an anxiety disorder that can affect pregnant women and new moms that cause them to have obsessive and extreme thoughts and behaviours. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that is more common than people think. OCD, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a type of anxiety disorder in which you have unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to engage in repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Women can also suffer from this disorder while trying to get pregnant, they can become obsessive about trying to conceive.
Obsessions are persistent, extreme, unwanted and disturbing thoughts, images, or impulses that are not controllable and cause a great deal of concern, anxiety, upset or distress. Compulsions are deliberate behaviours (e.g. washing, checking, organising) or mental acts (e.g. praying, counting) that are carried out to try reduce the feeling of anxiety caused by the obsessions. While obsessions cause anxiety, performing a compulsion reduces that anxiety.
It is important to know the risk factors for Antenatal or Postnatal OCD. Research shows that all of the things listed below can put you at a higher risk for developing this disorder. If you have any of these factors, you should discuss them with your healthcare provider like your doctor so that you can learn to recognise symptoms and plan ahead for care should you need it.
- Previous emotional traumas
- A personal or family history of OCD, anxiety, or postnatal OCD or anxiety
- New mums can suffer from OCD anxiety if they have suffered from it during pregnancy
- Inadequate support in caring for the baby
- Complications in pregnancy or birth
- A major recent life event: loss, house move, job loss
- Mothers whose infants are in or have been in Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU)
- Mothers who have gone through infertility treatments
- Women who have previously terminated a pregnancy or lost a baby (including miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies or stillbirth)
It is very important for women to learn to recognise the signs and symptoms of Antenatal or Postnatal OCD so that they can ask for help as early as possible. The severity of Antenatal or Postnatal OCD depends on the number of symptoms, their intensity and the extent to which they interfere with normal functioning. Antenatal or Postnatal OCD tends to be characterized by a combination of the following symptoms. The combination and severity of symptoms will be different for every woman, resulting in many different appearances of Antenatal or Postnatal OCD.
- Thoughts and images about hurting your baby
- Thoughts and images of hurting yourself or someone else
- Thoughts and images about previously killing your baby
- Constant worrying about the baby, your parenting skills, partners parenting skills, the future, etc
- Constant doubt you have done something or keep thinking you have made a mistake
- Having the need for exactness, order, extreme routines, constant arranging
- Afraid to leave your baby alone even when they are asleep, staying awake so you can keep an eye on them, hypervigilance in protecting the infant
- Feeling that something bad is going to happen, feeling dread
- Avoiding being alone with your baby or taking care of your baby because of your thoughts
- Irrational fear of germs or dirt that could cause your baby to get sick
- Obsessive over cleaning including continually washing your baby, yourself, their clothes, your house and anything that could touch your baby
- Afraid to take care of your baby in case you make a mistake and they get hurt
- Time taken up by excessive routines and persistent thoughts
- Avoiding normal things, places, people or situations that could harm your baby, ie being around too many people in case they spread germs to your baby
- Irritated or upset if others especially your partner, family and friends don’t copy your behaviours
Antenatal or Postnatal OCD is not something to be ashamed of, it’s OK to talk about it. It should be seen as one of the many complications of pregnancy and childbirth. With early identification/diagnosis, immediate access to Antenatal or Postnatal OCD specific services and accurate information women with Antenatal or Postnatal OCD do recover. If you feel you may be suffering from Antenatal or Postnatal OCD, know that it is not your fault and you are not to blame. We understand what you are going through and will connect you to people who can help. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms please click here to see how to contact us.
If you are feeling very down or depressed you may be suffering from Depression during Pregnancy or if you have given birth Postnatal Depression or if you feel very anxious you may be suffering from Antenatal or Postnatal Anxiety. You can have symptoms from each of these illnesses as they sometimes happen together which is very common as well. Again all these illnesses are temporary with the right treatment.
One last but extremely important thing to note: Women with Antenatal or Postnatal OCD may have thoughts of hurting their baby but because OCD is not a psychotic illness, the mother is unlikely to act on her thoughts, so there is little risk to the infant. Nevertheless, the toll on the mother is tremendous. If you are having moments where it seems like you can see or hear things no one else does, if you are feeling paranoid as if others are out to get you, if you are having thoughts or beliefs that you normally would never have, or if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or your child, children andor others it’s vital that you reach out for help immediately. These symptoms require immediate attention as they could be signs of postpartum psychosis. If you have these symptoms, your illness has the potential to take over and make you to do things that you wouldn’t normally do. Postpartum psychosis is temporary and treatable with professional help, but it is an emergency and it is essential that you receive immediate help.