According to new research, new moms suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) more than the general population.
Researchers from Northwestern Medicine found symptoms of OCD in 11 percent of women during the second week and sixth month following childbirth, compared to only 2 percent of the general population.
Some obsessions are adaptive and appropriate
Generally, the symptoms were temporary and included fears like injuring the baby or exposing the baby to germs.
“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,” said Dana Gossett, MD, senior author of the study and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “But when it interferes with normal day-to-day functioning and appropriate care for the baby and parent, it becomes maladaptive and pathologic.”
Stress of pregnancy and childbirth may trigger OCD
“A compulsion is a response to those obsessive thoughts, a ritualistic behavior that temporary allays the anxiety but can’t rationally prevent the obsession from occurring,” said lead author Emily Miller, MD. OCD can be caused by stress, which may explain why new moms are more susceptible to it.
New moms tend to fear germs and dirt as well as inadvertently harming their new baby. “That can be emotionally painful,” Miller said. “You don’t intend to harm the baby, but you’re fearful that you will.”
Most women who participated in the study said their symptoms got better six months after childbirth. “If those symptoms are developing much later after delivery, they are less likely to be hormonal or adaptive,” explained Gossett.
Postpartum depression distinct from major depression
“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,” said Miller. “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.”
Source: MedicalNewsToday, The Journal of Reproductive Medicine