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From Perinatal to Postpartum: Moms have OCD too.

By:  Merrisa Bragg, April Vass and Shaina Charles

“…I would be nursing my baby like usual and would suddenly get very hot and sweaty.  A thought would arise about throwing her off of me, yelling, “Get off me!” and squeezing her neck until her head popped off” (Livingston, 2021, p.1).  Affecting women during the perinatal and postpartum periods, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can make the difficult job of motherhood a terrifying experience.  

OCD attacks what you love the most.  It makes sense then, that giving birth can exacerbate existing OCD symptoms: “Get away!  Get the baby away, I can’t touch her, I can’t be near her, I’m going to hurt her!” (Livingston, 2021, p.1).  Changes in hormone levels, brain activity, and serotonin during childbirth can create the perfect storm for mothers to develop OCD symptoms during childbirth: “I managed to fulfil my intended natural, drug-free birth plan even though I wanted to give up several times.  I brought new life into the world and abruptly felt I was its sole support and provider, overwhelmed and unprepared for this responsibility” (Livingston, 2021, p.1). 

Even if you have thoughts of shaking baby, dropping baby, or popping baby’s head off, fear that you, as a mother, will cause harm to your baby does not mean you will cause harm to your baby.  Experiencing intrusive thoughts and feeling the fear they cause is ok:  you’re afraid because you do not want to act on the thought, but you fear you could, and that sounds like OCD.  

Symptoms of Maternal OCD include (but are not limited to): 

  • Unwanted thoughts about harming your baby (see above) 
  • Unhealthy attachment to the baby to protect (always holding; carefully selecting the crib bedsheet; feeling as though you have to be the parent to put baby to bed; checking baby’s breathing)
  • Seeking constant and repetitive reassurance regarding baby’s health (i.e., are you sure they’re ok?)
  • Secrecy regarding intrusive thoughts (i.e., partner or parents unaware of thoughts, images, urges) 
  • Feeling intense guilt and shame for intrusive thoughts
  • Avoiding baby out of fear of harm (see above) 
  • Intense, vivid, recurring images of harm coming to baby (i.e. “seeing” images of your baby in their crib unmoving/deceased, images of dropping baby) 

In celebration of all the moms in our community who may be suffering, we’ve collected a series of resources.  Let us know your favourites in the comments below.  

Books: 

  • Good Moms have Scary Thoughts by Karen Kleinman 
  • Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts by Karen Kleinman

Websites: 

Articles: 

Podcasts: 

Helpline: