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Postpartum OCD & How to Cope with It

Postpartum OCD & How to Cope with It

We often envision the period after giving birth as a chapter marked by excitement around bringing a new child into the family. While it is an exciting time, the difficulties of postpartum and becoming a new parent are not often talked about.  You bring a new baby home and everything in your life suddenly changes. You are now responsible for another human who depends solely on you for their physical and emotional wellbeing in their early stages of life. This is an overwhelming feeling that can feel both wondrous and anxiety provoking at the same time.

The chapter after birth is often focused on the newborn and their health. However, the new parent’s mental and physical health is often overlooked, even though it is just as important. While a degree of anxiety postpartum is normal, there are a significant number of women who develop postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. As the onset can be sudden and cause significant distress, raising awareness to empower women and their support systems to access treatment is imperative.

What is OCD?

First, let’s talk about what OCD is to better understand the concept of postpartum OCD. OCD involves the presence of obsessions, which can include intrusive and unwanted thoughts or images. In turn, these obsessions cause someone to engage in compulsive or repetitive behaviors to temporarily alleviate the feelings of anxiety obsessions bring. When someone is struggling with OCD, they engage in compulsions with the goal of reducing uncertainty around their intrusive thoughts being accurate or becoming true.

Here are a few basic examples around how OCD can manifest. If someone fears becoming sick, they may frequently wash their hands or check themselves for any signs of illness. If someone fears that their house may be broken into, they may repeatedly check that their doors and windows are locked.

What is Postpartum OCD?

Postpartum OCD, in most cases, involves fears related to the baby’s safety or well-being. Of course, regardless of their parenting stage, every parent has fears over their child. That is completely normal and to be expected. So, worrying about a child or newborn does not mean that someone has postpartum OCD.

However, when these worries and fears become excessively embedded into someone’s mind, it causes them to react in certain ways. Common obsessions that someone may experience may include:

  • Worries about accidentally harming their newborn.
  • Fear of their baby becoming sick or them getting their baby sick.
  • Intrusive thoughts about harming oneself.

Common compulsions that someone may exhibit as a result of these intense fears:

  • Excessively cleaning and decontaminating surfaces and objects
  • Checking on the baby repeatedly, to the point that it happens every few minutes.
  • Seeking reassurance from others, whether that be a spouse, partner, family member, or medical professional.
  • Avoidance of certain situations that are related to an individual’s intrusive thoughts (e.g., staircases, knives, being alone with the baby)
  • Rumination

How to Deal with Postpartum OCD

First, it’s important to remember that dealing with anything postpartum, whether that is OCD, depression, or anxiety, is never someone’s fault. It’s important to remember that during pregnancy, the body and hormones rapidly change and fluctuate as new life forms inside the womb. Then, nine months later, these hormones attempt to begin to stabilize. For some mothers, the combination of hormonal fluctuations, environmental triggers, and in certain cases a pre-existing baseline for anxiety, can result in periods of anxiety, depression, or OCD.

While postpartum OCD is challenging to deal with, especially at such a pivotal life transition, it can be overcome.


Your newborn is your top priority, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prioritize yourself, too. In this chapter, self-care often means basic self-care. Ensure you are eating nutritious meals, getting as much sleep as possible, and trying to move your body. How you make these basics work in your own life will vary from person to person. Sometimes, taking a shower is all you can muster, but celebrate the small win.

Evidenced Based Therapy

This list is short for a reason. Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) is the gold standard and the evidenced based treatment for postpartum OCD. In ERP therapy clients will learn how to defuse from unhelpful thoughts, approach meaningful and functional activity instead of avoid, and learn tools to successfully manage their OCD.

The clinicians at the OCD & Anxiety Center are trained in ERP and specialize in postpartum OCD. We are here to help you navigate this difficult time. We not only include the client in treatment, but their support system as well. Reach out to us to learn more about ERP for postpartum OCD. We are here to help support you.

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