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Explains postnatal depression and other perinatal mental health issues, including possible causes, sources of treatment and support, and advice for friends and family.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. The term is often misused in daily conversation – for example, you might hear people talk about being 'a bit OCD' if they like things to be neat and tidy. But the reality of this disorder is a lot more complex and serious.
Perinatal OCD is when you experience OCD during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth.
This page covers:
OCD has two main parts:
The aim of a compulsion is to relieve the intense anxiety caused by obsessive thoughts. However, the process of repeating these compulsions is often distressing in itself, and any relief you feel is often short-lived.
"I thought I was a horrible failure… I'd panic that they thought I would hurt him and then take him away. After this I became so obsessed that they would, I would watch him constantly and not sleep to make sure nothing happened to him."
If you experience perinatal OCD, you're likely to have obsessions and compulsions that relate to your feelings about being a parent and your baby. Here are some common obssessions and compulsions:
These thoughts can be very upsetting and frightening, but it's important to remember that having an intrusive thought doesn't mean that you'll act on it. It can be very hard to open up and talk to someone about these type of thoughts, but you can get treatment and support.
"I spent the first few months of my daughter's life consumed with anxiety that I would somehow contaminate her. My hands were raw from constant washing. I got the help I needed and am finally enjoying being a mummy."
The main treatment for OCD is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), particularly a specific form of CBT called exposure and response prevention (ERP). This is a talking treatment that helps you understand how your OCD works and what you need to do to overcome it. Your therapist will help you confront your obsessions and learn how to resist the urge to carry out compulsions.
You may also be offered medication to treat your anxiety. Some people find that taking medication alongside a talking treatment can help them get the most out of their therapy. If there are long waiting times in your area for talking treatments, your doctor might suggest that you try medication while you wait.
"During my second pregnancy, I had an experience seeing blood on a public toilet seat which led onto a severe obsession with the irrational thought that I had contracted HIV. This irrational thought took over my life. It turned into what felt like a huge monster."
Here are some ideas to help you look after yourself and manage your OCD:
For more ideas, see our page on how you can look after your mental health in general when becoming a parent.
This information was published in July 2016. We will revise it in 2019.
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