Are New Mothers at Risk for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Anton Nossik [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Women who have recently given birth to a baby are at a higher risk of suffering from the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) than the general population. The information was discovered during a research study done by Northwestern Medicine and the results were published in The Journal of Reproductive Medicine.

The Results of the Study

The team of researchers identified OCD symptoms in 11 percent of females at their second week medical evaluation and at their six month follow up check-up after birth. In contrast, only 2 percent of the normal population will ever experience the symptoms of OCD.

The study done by Northwestern Medicine is the first of its kind to observe OCD symptoms in women after they have given birth.

OCD symptoms are usually only temporary in nature and they include fears about causing an injury to the baby or the baby being exposed to germs. The team believes that if the first OCD symptoms happen to interfere with daily life, then it could be indicative of a mental health issue.

Dr. Dana Gossett, author of the study and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said, “It may be that certain kinds of obsessions and compulsions are adaptive and appropriate for a new parent, for example those about cleanliness and hygiene. But when it interferes with normal day-to-day functioning and appropriate care for the baby and parent, it becomes maladaptive and pathologic.”

Dr. Gossett’s own upsetting thought patterns that started after giving birth are what led her and her team to determine whether the feelings were common with all women.

Emily Miller, MD, the study’s lead author states, “A compulsion is a response to those obsessive thoughts, a ritualistic behavior that temporarily allays the anxiety but can’t rationally prevent the obsession from occurring.”


Obsessive compulsive disorder can be due to stress, which could possibly explain why situations such as pregnancy can predispose women to it.
The most common things women would think in the study were in regards to germs or diet, said Dr. Miller. Some women even reported thoughts that involved harming their infant.

Dr. Miller stated, “That can be emotionally painful. You don’t intend to harm the baby, but you’re fearful that you will.”

Dr. Gossett mentioned that when she had her first baby, she constantly worried about damaging her infant somehow. She said, “It comes into your mind and it’s frightening.”

Close to half of all women in the study said their OCD symptoms improved after six months. However, new mother’s reported symptoms that didn’t appear during the first two weeks post-birth.


In conclusion, Dr. Gossett stated, “There is some debate as to whether postpartum depression is simply a major depressive episode that happens after birth or its own disease with its own features. Our study supports the idea that it may be its own disease with more of the anxiety and obsessive-compulsive symptoms than would be typical for a major depressive episode.”

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