Seattle's Child

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OCD in pregnancy or postpartum: debilitating but treatable

For some parents, a new baby’s arrival comes with debilitating obsessions and compulsions, but help is available.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a psychiatric illness that can occur while pregnant and postpartum. In fact, it can happen whether or not a parent has physically given birth.

Obsessions are intrusive thoughts, feelings or images that the person who is experiencing them does not wish to see come true. Compulsions are repeated behaviors by a person attempting to reduce the anxiety that is felt in response to obsessions.

For example, you may have the fear that your baby may die and respond by repeatedly checking if your child is breathing. Or you could have the thought of dropping the baby, and urgently ask someone else to hold the baby. You might visualize yourself putting the baby in the microwave and then have to remove the microwave from the home. With OCD, just thinking about yelling at the baby could drive you to avoid being in the same room as the baby.

While compulsions can reduce anxiety very briefly, significant anxiety returns shortly after compulsions are performed, and the anxiety returns at a greater intensity.

If you have OCD, there are treatments that can help you. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is the gold standard form of therapy that helps improve symptoms. There are also several prescription medications currently on the market that can help reduce the symptoms associated with OCD.

For more information about health care providers who specialize in treating OCD, refer to the International OCD Foundation’s website. You can get better, and you are not alone.

Dr. Shereen Morse specializes in treating anxiety-related disorders. She is a courtesy clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Washington and also holds an active faculty position with Swedish Medical Centers, has an office in Ballard, and a website.

More on parents’ and kids’ health:

Depression in kids: What to look for, how to seek help

Sunscreen: a guide for Seattle families