What is Postpartum OCD?

What is Postpartum OCD?

What is Postpartum OCD? 2560 1498 Right Path Counseling

There’s an argument to be made that we don’t talk enough about the number of physical, emotional, and psychological changes that parents go through when they have a baby. Both women AND men experience a wide range of changes, with women and child birthing adults going through even more as their bodies experience a range of hormonal fluctuations and alterations.

One issue that can affect women that is rarely spoken about is known as postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder.  Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that affects some new mothers following the birth of their child. While it is common for new parents to experience a range of emotions, postpartum OCD is characterized by persistent, intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that can significantly impact a mother’s ability to function and care for her baby.

Who We Are At Right Path Counseling

Right Path Counseling is a psychotherapy practice on Long Island with a team of therapists that work with women and adults, providing comprehensive support for mental health. We are more than happy to connect you to a therapist on Long Island with experience working with new moms or parents.

What Are The Symptoms of Postpartum OCD?

Postpartum OCD is a version of traditional obsessive compulsive disorder that occurs after having a new baby. It manifests through various symptoms that can be both distressing and debilitating. These symptoms typically fall into two categories – obsessions and compulsions.


Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses that cause significant anxiety or distress. In the context of postpartum OCD, these might include:

  • Fear of Harming the Baby – Mothers may have recurring, distressing thoughts about accidentally or intentionally harming their baby, despite having no desire to do so.
  • Fear of Contamination – Excessive worry about germs or dirt harming the baby.
  • Perfectionism – An overwhelming need for things to be perfect for the baby, leading to extreme anxiety if things are not “just right.”

One thing to make clear is that these obsessions are not desires. They’re thoughts that a person cannot seem to get rid of, that – when it occurs – causes an intense feeling of distress.


Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts performed in response to obsessions, aimed at reducing the associated anxiety. Common compulsions in postpartum OCD include:

  • Checking – Repeatedly checking on the baby to ensure they are breathing or are safe.
  • Cleaning – Excessive cleaning or sterilizing of baby items to prevent contamination.
  • Reassurance Seeking – Constantly seeking reassurance from others about the baby’s health and safety or about their own parenting abilities.

Compulsions also may not necessarily be logical, and these compulsions do not have to be physical either. A person’s checking compulsion may be to think about something to see if it’s something they want to do (for example, “do I want to hurt my baby? No I don’t”).

Why Do Psychologists Think Postpartum OCD Occurs?

While the exact cause is not entirely understood, psychologists and researchers have identified several factors that are believed to contribute to the development of postpartum OCD. These factors include hormonal changes, genetic predisposition, psychological stress, and environmental influences.

Hormonal Changes

One of the most significant factors thought to contribute to postpartum OCD is the hormonal fluctuation that occurs after childbirth. During pregnancy, a woman’s body undergoes substantial hormonal changes, including increased levels of estrogen and progesterone. After delivery, these hormone levels drop sharply, which can affect brain chemistry and mood regulation.

Hormonal changes can influence the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, which are critical in regulating mood and anxiety. Disruptions in these neurotransmitters are often linked to anxiety disorders, including OCD.

Genetic Predisposition

Genetics also play a crucial role in the development of postpartum OCD. Individuals with a family history of OCD or other anxiety disorders are more likely to develop similar conditions themselves. This genetic predisposition can be amplified by the stress and hormonal changes associated with childbirth.

Studies have shown that OCD tends to run in families, indicating a hereditary component. If a close relative has OCD, the risk of developing the disorder increases, particularly during times of significant stress, such as the postpartum period.

Psychological Stress

The transition to motherhood is a major life event that can bring about substantial psychological stress. The demands of caring for a newborn, coupled with the sleep deprivation and changes in daily routine, can contribute to heightened anxiety levels.

New mothers often feel an intense responsibility to care for and protect their baby, which can lead to excessive worry and intrusive thoughts about the baby’s well-being.

Many new mothers strive for perfection in their caregiving, which can lead to compulsive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety and ensuring the baby’s safety.

Environmental Influences

Environmental factors, such as a lack of social support, can also play a significant role in the development of postpartum OCD. The postpartum period can be isolating, and without adequate support from family, friends, or healthcare providers, new mothers may feel overwhelmed and anxious.

A strong support system is essential for mental health, particularly during the postpartum period. Mothers with limited social support are at higher risk for developing anxiety disorders, including OCD.

Additional stressors, such as financial difficulties, relationship problems, or other significant life changes, can exacerbate anxiety and contribute to the onset of OCD symptoms.

Psychological Factors

Certain psychological factors, including previous mental health conditions and personality traits, can influence the likelihood of developing postpartum OCD. Women who have a history of anxiety disorders, depression, or OCD are more susceptible to developing postpartum OCD.

Traits such as perfectionism, high levels of conscientiousness, and a strong need for control can predispose individuals to anxiety disorders, including OCD.

Impact Of Postpartum OCD on Mothers and Families

Postpartum OCD can have a significant impact on a mother’s mental health and overall well-being. The intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors can lead to:

  • Increased Anxiety and Distress – Constant worry and anxiety can be overwhelming and exhausting.
  • Impaired Functioning – Difficulty in carrying out daily activities and caring for the baby.
  • Strained Relationships – The stress of OCD can affect relationships with partners, family members, and friends.

Being a parent is already difficult naturally, and so experiencing an increase in anxiety and stress can make parenting even harder. That is why it is so important to recognize this issue and address it professionally.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Early diagnosis and treatment of postpartum OCD are important for improving outcomes for both the mother and the baby. Healthcare professionals use a combination of assessments and questionnaires to diagnose the condition.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of postpartum OCD, it is important to seek professional help. Early intervention can significantly improve quality of life and aid in recovery. Reach out to a healthcare provider, therapist, or support group to get the necessary support and treatment.

Postpartum OCD is a serious but treatable condition that affects many new mothers. Knowing the symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options can help in managing the disorder effectively. With the right support and treatment, mothers can overcome postpartum OCD and enjoy a healthy, fulfilling life with their new baby.

If you would like to explore psychological support, please contact Right Path Counseling today.

Right Path

Right Path Counseling is a team of counselors and therapists on Long Island, each with their unique perspectives and approaches to provide more personal, customized care. We see our role as more diverse than only the therapist and patient relationship, and see people as more than anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. We also offer services for children with ADHD and their parents that are unique to the Long Island area, including parent coaching and executive function disorder coaching. We encourage you to reach out at any time with questions and for support.

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