The Link between new Mothers and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

The chances of new mothers suffering from postpartum depression are well-documented. There is a very real risk that, if left untreated, it can lead to suicide attempts, self-harm and harm to the baby. Fortunately, awareness of postpartum depression has risen enormously in recent years. However, not so much is known about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and the link with new mothers. Now a study, published in The Journal of Reproductive Medicine, highlights the prevalence of OCD in new mothers.

The study looked at 461 women who were recruited after they had given birth. Basic information was collected from them just after delivery; researchers then followed up with them two weeks later and again at six months. Participants completed screening tests for mental illness, including OCD, depression and anxiety.

At the two week mark, approximately 11 percent of participants screened positive for symptoms of OCD. Of that 11 percent, half of them still had symptoms at the six month stage. Another 5.4% of the original cohort had developed symptoms of OCD. Those diagnosed with OCD also had symptoms of depression.

The researchers compared the prevalence of OCD in the postpartum period with those in the population as a whole. Approximately 2-3% of people in the population are believed to have OCD. This is clearly much lower than the rate amongst women with postpartum OCD, leading the researchers to conclude that women in the postpartum period are more likely to be diagnosed with OCD than those in the general population. Not only that, but once they have the symptoms of OCD, they are likely to last for at least six months.

The International OCD Foundation highlights a number of symptoms of OCD in new mothers. This includes checking on the baby more than is necessary, praying over and over again to avoid negative outcomes, irrational cleaning and constantly seeking assurance from other mothers and researching on the Internet. Whereas these are common symptoms of a new mother, they are classed as obsessive if they begin to take over the mother’s life. 

As Yahoo reports, the reasons for postpartum OCD are not really known. Some suggest that it is down to hormonal changes, particularly in oxytocin and progesterone. Others suggest it is merely a natural fear of the new responsibility that a new baby brings. Each new mother is affected differently, so it is likely to be a long time before the cause is found. Unfortunately, in the meantime, that could mean that new mothers are not treated for OCD. 

The good news is that OCD can be treated once it has been diagnosed. Treatment usually includes therapy of some kind, often Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, combined with medication. However, there is little known about the effect that medication has on babies who are being breastfed, which makes many mothers, and doctors, reluctant to prescribe medication.

The Journal of Reproductive Medicine has highlighted an important link between OCD and new mothers and will hopefully raise awareness of the condition. However, much more research needs to be done into the medication that treats OCD in order to prescribe medication that is safe for breastfed babies.