People with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) have persistent distressing thoughts, images or impulses (obsessions) and may use rituals (compulsions) to control the anxiety that these thoughts produce. People with OCD may feel compelled to engage in certain rituals such as hand-washing, counting, checking, or cleaning. They may be obsessed with germs or dirt, and wash their hands over and over. They may be filled with doubt and feel the need to check things repeatedly.
Many people have rituals, such as checking to see if the stove is off several times before leaving the house. This is often a normal response.The difference in people with OCD is the degree of time spent in doing this. Usually this takes more than an hour a day or causes marked distress or impairment and it is this which differentiates it from normal.
“I would clean his nose and ears constantly even when it was obvious he didn’t want me to. I couldn’t stand to see any tiny little bit of dirt in them, so I was constantly prodding and picking at him. I thought that bacteria was bad, and he would get ill if I didn’t clean him. I though it was normal to do this and didn’t realise that other mothers didn’t clean their babies like this.”
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OCD in the postnatal period
This can interfere with your ability to take care of your baby. For example, you may not attend straight away to your crying baby, as you feel compelled to complete a ritual such as cleaning or checking. Some mothers with OCD become obsessive about germs contaminating their baby and may go to great lengths to ensure the baby does not come into contact with anything considered dirty (e.g. changing their clothes many times a day, not allowing the baby on the floor, repeatedly washing the baby’s ears and nose).
Often women feel embarrassed or ashamed about their thoughts and compulsions and it can be very hard to tell someone. However, it is important to tell your doctor as OCD as can be treated.