Understanding Postpartum OCD

5 min read

Written by Editorial Team

Editorial Team

Feel like you are not in love with your newborn? You might be suffering from Postpartum OCD.
Postpartum ocd
After an exciting and impatient wait of nine months, you finally get to cradle your bundle of joy in your arms. At first, you feel nothing but love and gratefulness. The awe of having played God. The humility you feel in knowing the baby in your arms is yours.
For most moms, this joy ride will continue with a few hiccups and blues. But for around 3%-5% mothers, the joy and warmth might get replaced with very disturbing thoughts about injuring the baby. This is an extremely serious condition called postpartum OCD. It is also very tricky – for starters the mothers feel ashamed to talk about it as the thoughts are very intrusive. Secondly, if the mothers do talk to their doctors, it is most often misdiagnosed as postpartum depression. If you, or anyone you know, are experiencing obsessive thoughts about harming the baby, then please read on. Educate yourself. And most importantly, get help.

Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression vs. Postpartum OCD

Motherhood is as difficult a time as it is exciting. It is not uncommon for any woman to feel overwhelmed with all the new “mommy” responsibilities. Many of us buckle under this dual-hat pressure – doing everything we did before we became ‘a mom’ AND being a mom. There will be days when you feel sad, sleepless, down, cry spontaneously and even be ready to give up on motherhood. You might also feel ashamed of your feelings because it looks like all other mommies around are doing it right with a smile on their faces. The sadness you feel in such situations – it can be either the common (and harmless) baby blues or the more serious postpartum depression. How do you find out? The duration of the time you feel it and the progression of your symptoms.

  • Baby blues normally passes after a few days or weeks. It also gets better with time, meaning you do not feel as sad as you were in the beginning.Around 60-80% of all mothers feel baby blues. It does not require any treatment
  • Postpartum depression is more severe, lasts a longer time, and the symptoms tend to get worse (meaning you feel sadder and sadder day by day). Around 10-20% of mothers are known to go through postpartum depression and will need counselling and medical help to come out of it
  • Postpartum OCD is more rare and different from the above two. It is not merely an overwhelming sadness that wraps you in this condition. An affected mother feels very intrusive thoughts of harming the child, of causing physical injury or obsessive thoughts about being responsible for something bad that happens to a child. It is severe, it is obsessive and it is mostly misunderstood

The unfortunate truth is that mommies with postpartum OCD are often misdiagnosed to have postpartum depression. And mothers with postpartum depression are often brushed off by saying they have routine baby blues. With so little understanding about the condition even among medical practitioners, it is important the mothers at least are able to spot signs of it.

What Are The Symptoms Of Postpartum OCD

OCD stands of obsessive compulsive disorder, which is an anxiety disorder resulting in irrepressible fears, compulsive or repetitive behavior and intrusive thoughts. Many moms feel a bit obsessed about not wanting to harm the child unintentionally – they wash their hands multiple times, insist everyone near the baby has uses a hand sanitizer, do not allow anyone with an infection to come near baby and so on. These are NORMAL behavioral traits. But it becomes more obsessive and compulsive when the fear interfere with the mom doing her duties for the child.
While every case of postpartum OCD is unique, the general symptoms are:

    • Fear of unintentionally hurting the child
    • Thoughts of intentionally hurting the child – dropping the baby from a high place, stabbing the baby with a sharp object, drowning the baby in bath or suffocating the baby with a pillow
    • Constantly imagining the baby dead
    • Obsession with baby’s cleanliness. Please note that “obsession” is the key word here. Affected mothers refuse to breastfeed the baby

for the fear of some toxins or germs passing on to the child

  • Fearing that you might make some wrong decision about baby care that might be fatal for the child
  • Blaming self unrealistically if baby catches a disease
  • Compulsively checking the baby when he is sleeping to ensure he is ok (because of excessive fear that baby will die in his sleep)
  • Wanting excessive reassurance from people around that the baby is alright
  • Feeling the need to throw away sharp objects like scissors or knives to avoid hurting the child


Mom with postpartum OCD
Since close to 60% of all moms with postpartum depression also have postpartum OCD, chances are that if you have postpartum OCD, you will also show many symptoms of postpartum depression. For more on postpartum depression, read Post Natal Depression – Symptoms, Treatments and Recovery.

What Are The Causes Of Postpartum OCD?

The studies are still nascent as to understand this condition fully. But broadly, the causes can be either biological or psychological. Biological reasons are attributed to the hormonal changes that happen in a mother’s body, particularly the fluctuations in the levels of oxytocin, which is linked to OCD. The other reason could be psychological, which results in having dangerous infant-related thoughts.

How Can Postpartum OCD Be Treated?

If you fear you have postpartum OCD, please talk to your doctor about it and consult a specialist. The silver lining is that the condition is treatable just the way any normal OCD is taken care of. Few treatments that might work are:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): These are of various kinds such as Cognitive Restructuring and Exposure and Response Prevention. In some of these techniques, the mothers are asked to talk about their feelings and are challenged as to the validity of these thoughts. Sometimes stories are written based on the mother’s intrusive thoughts about harming the child and these stories are used as tools to “expose” the mother to her own obsessions
  • Serotonin reuptake inhibitors: These are medications (as opposed to CBT which is a mental tool based treatment) used to cure OCD. However, its effects on the breastfeeding child is not yet known

If you are facing with the symptoms mentioned in this write-up, please understand that you are not a bad person or a monstrous mother. There is a biological and psychological reason for feeling what you are feeling and there is treatment for it. So please get help.
Good luck!

Editorial Team,

With a rich experience in pregnancy and parenting, our team of experts create insightful, well-curated, and easy-to-read content for our to-be-parents and parents at all stages of parenting.Read more.

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