What To Do If You Have Postpartum OCD

postpartum OCD, postpartum obsessive compulsive disorderAs I shared earlier this week, it is possible that postpartum OCD occurs much more often than originally thought, perhaps in as many as 10% of new moms.

Since there’s so much discussion about postpartum OCD in the news, I wanted to make sure we talked a little more about it here. I have a lot of personal interest, since that’s what I struggled with. I remember combing through websites and forums looking for information that would help explain what was wrong with me, and when I saw the typical short lists of postpartum depression symptoms I really couldn’t see myself. Yes, I was upset and miserable, but the lists didn’t mention anything about disturbing thoughts or constant worry and being continuously afraid that I’d mess up or hurt my baby.

When you don’t see yourself reflected in the information that’s available, that’s just as scary as the illness itself. You start to believe you’ve really gone irretrievably crazy and that no one will be able to fix you. You’re an island. A terrifying island. Once I finally found out there was such a thing as postpartum OCD I was profoundly angry that no one had warned me it was possible to have something called intrusive thoughts and they didn’t mean I was a monster.

I think part of the problem stems from the belief most of us have of what OCD looks like. We think of OCD as someone who hoards things or washes their hands a million times a day and if we aren’t doing those things we can’t imagine that we might have obsessive-compulsive disorder. While those are certainly potential signs, intrusive thoughts (scary “what if” thoughts) are another. So are compulsions like checking on the baby over and over again or, like I did, folding and refolding all the burp cloths so they were perfectly square.

If you have postpartum OCD or anxiety symptoms like these, know that it’s okay. You’re not ruined forever, you’re not a danger to society, and you’re not a bad mom. You just need a little help. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like PPD and PPOCD are common and fully treatable. I’d suggest reaching out to a local advocacy group or calling PSI at 1-800-944-4PPD to find the support people closest to you so that you can get help from someone who understands postpartum OCD and how to help you.

Meantime, here’s my personal postpartum OCD story which appeared in Newsweek magazine in 2004. I thought you might like to see that you’re definitely NOT alone.

(P.S. You also might like this one: Does Having Scary Thoughts Mean You’ll Act On Them?)

About Katherine Stone

is the creator of this blog, and the founder and executive director of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the 15 most influential patient advocates to follow. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

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Comments

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! If it was not for you, Katherine, I would have felt so alone while struggling with postpartum OCD. While I am not 100%, I am feeling a lot better and I thought I would NEVER get better. So if you are suffering please know it does get better. I also have thought that the numbers have to be a lot higher than what statistics have shown. I did not have any anxiety or OCD symptoms before having a baby so I just have to believe this happens more often then we know. It is an awful thing to have to go through, but it does get better with help and treatment. Thank you again Katherine. You have helped so many of us!!!

  2. Katherine, I was having not a great day today. Sick and tired after an insanely busy work day makes me have bad recovery days. My mind just gets a bit weaker, but this post was exactly what I needed. Thank you for continuously ssharing your experience.

  3. PPOCD was a huge problem for me but it went undiagnosed. I wish the medical community was better educated in the need to explain the difference between PPD/suicidal ideations and PPOCD/intrusive thoughts.

  4. Peggy Gale says:

    Do you have any insights or treatment suggestion when PPOCD returns later in life after the children are grown. Do you know of any people this has happened to?

    • Heather King says:

      Peggy, it’s best to reach out to a doctor or therapist that you trust. If you don’t have one, perhaps a search for someone in your area who specializes in OCD could help. There is help for OCD no matter when it started or when it is happening. I’m sorry you’ve been struggling.

      • Peggy Gale says:

        I am sorry, keeping my comment short ended up making it misleading. I am a therapist who does Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprossessing (EMDR) therapy. I have a client.with PPOCD who is 60 years removed from her original PPD. She did not ant to revisit that time which is part of EMDR therapy, so I have been trying everything I could think of, but one of it has had much effect. She is now deciding whether she wants to do EMDR processing. When I came across this blog, I thought I would ask to see if there were something I didn’t know about.

        • Heather King says:

          OH I see, Peggy. Thanks for clarifying. I guess that I’m not sure what the answer is either. If she isn’t willing to revisit that time but seems traumatized by it, that’s so hard. Rock and hard place. I hope she becomes open to working through some of it. It’s so good of you to be researching and looking for more ways to help.

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