I know many people who are either pregnant or they have a newborn. Feeling inspired, I’ve decided to explore mental health issues that can come up before pregnancy or after pregnancy. The first problem that I am going to study is Perinatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Perinatal OCD (pOCD) is when a person experiences OCD during pregnancy or the first year they give birth.
For people who are unfamiliar with OCD, it is composed of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are irritating thoughts and ideas that repeatedly come up in mind. Obsessions can be the fear of hitting a pedestrian when driving, the fear of embarrassing one’s self in public, or the fear of contamination. Compulsions are the rituals or activities that you feel the need to do. They could be walking back and forth to your house to make sure everything is locked, repeatedly washing your hands to make sure germs are off, or making sure that you don’t stop on cracks so that you don’t break your mother’s back.
How is Perinatal OCD Different?
Regarding pOCD, it is different from typical OCD in that the obsessions and the compulsions focus on the perinatal period, which is time between pregnancy through postpartum. The obsessions could be the fear of the child getting hurt, lost, or contaminated. The compulsion rituals may include checking, mental loops, and seeking reassurance behavior. It may also include unwanted sexual obsessions and excessive avoidance of holding, carrying, and bathing their child. While typical OCD happens gradually, pOCD occurs quickly and often coincides with feelings of being responsible for a new human being.
What are the Signs of Perinatal OCD?
The Obsessions of pOCD include:
- The fear of harm coming to the unborn infant or newborn child.
- Not telling others for fear of being sent away or being seen as crazy.
- Fear that you may harm your child even though you don’t want to.
The compulsions include:
- Avoiding specific activities such as carrying the infant, going upstairs with the infant, and bathing the infant.
- Repeating prayers or requesting others for reassurance.
- Needing your significant other nearby because of the obsessional fear.
- Struggles with sleeping and having insomnia because of the anxiety and the compulsions of taking care of a newborn.
- Continually inferring with others in taking care of your child.
Perinatal OCD and intrusive thoughts are more common than what is reported. According to a 2013 study, researchers estimate as many as 11% of women experience these types of mental disorders, and that nearly all parents have at least an intrusive thought in the perinatal period.
Perinatal OCD Treatment
The primary treatment for pOCD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), particularly a specific form called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).
Medication can also help treat pOCD. Some individuals find that the combination of therapy and medication helps them get the best of their treatment.
How to help yourself if you’re struggling with Perinatal OCD.
If you are struggling with Perinatal OCD, here are some ways to help yourself.
- Contact specialist organizations such as maternalOCD, Postpartum Support International, and MotherWoman.
- Try some self-help resources. Here are some resources listed in the UK based mental health charity Mind.
- If possible, talk to trusted loved ones about your condition. Tell them how your obsessions and compulsions and explain to them how you would like them to respond and support you.
How to Help Someone struggling with Perinatal OCD
Similar to typical OCD, a natural response to pOCD is to reassure the person who is experiencing it regularly. As wonderful as the intention, it’s only going to work in the short-term. The best thing you can do to help someone suffering pOCD is to help them arrange a consultation with a professional mental health clinician. If the individual is sensitive about getting help, do not force them but instead encourage them how professional counseling can help them immensely with their pOCD.
From my observations, the perinatal period is already tricky without experiencing mental illness. Having mental illness is another chore to deal with for the new parents. Hopefully, if you or your partner are experiencing pOCD or any other mental illness during the perinatal period, get professional help and support from your loved ones.
Abramowitz, J. (n.d.). Postpartum and Perinatal OCD [Pamphlet]. Boston, MA: International OCD Foundation
M. (2013, May 30). Perinatal OCD and Intrusive Thoughts: A Troublesome Secret to Many. Retrieved January 07, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/motherwoman/perinatal-ocd-and-intrusi_b_3360501.html
Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health. (n.d.). Retrieved January 07, 2018, from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/postnatal-depression-and-perinatal-mental-health/perinatal-ocd/#.WkgIukmnHMx