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Perinatal Matters

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

What is It?

Perinatal OCD is when a parent experiences Obsessive Compulsive Disorder while pregnant or during the first year of their baby life. It is a little known but not uncommon form of mental distress. Perinatal OCD often revolves around unwanted thoughts and images related to a parent’s fear of harming their infant.

Everyone experiences intrusive thoughts from time to time (ie unwelcome ideas, images or urges). These uninvited thoughts are usually quickly forgotten and the parent moves on. However, with perinatal OCD, a parent finds that intrusive thoughts get ‘stuck’ in their mind, returning again and again and causing them distress.

To gain relief from mental distress, the parent takes measures to counter the distressing thoughts and images. These measures are called compulsions, and gradually take more and more time and effort.

Contamination is a common perinatal OCD theme. This theme is about a parent seeking complete certainty that they will keep their baby safe from illness. Harm is another common perinatal OCD theme. A mother or father may have obsessive thoughts related to accidentally or actively hurting their baby. Because OCD is not about desire of intention to harm they may feel deeply ashamed and so may find it difficult to confide in others.

“I had images of kicking my son when he was lying on the mat, so I would walk with a gap around the mat or crawl to him on the mat. Changing baby’s nappy and a thought pops up…What if you’re a pedophile? This then turned into…Why would you even think that you weirdo? Does that mean I really am a pedophile?…” 

– Trudy, Mum

Fortunately, with the right support OCD is a very treatable condition. A clinical psychologist experienced in OCD treatment can help you to understand why the unwanted intrusive thoughts and emotions are happening and, importantly, how to manage them.

“No one could touch the food or surfaces the food was placed on. We had to change how we bought food, stored food and cooked food.”

– Jade, Mum

“There were swirling tensions as a father wanting to do the best for my child while at the same time all these horrible thoughts flooded my mind”

– David, Dad

It is easier to talk about mental distress if you are confident that others will understand. You could begin by giving a copy of the brochure below to someone you know and trust.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

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 can be treated.

“My obsessive thoughts have ranged from being afraid of accidentally hurting others, hating that the letter M came before N, and not being able to cook a meal without being worried I’d poison someone, to fearing I’d randomly cheat on my husband without meaning to, and worrying I’d run someone over on the footpath.”

“I had thoughts while I was pregnant – and then for at least the first 6–9 months with my first child. I didn’t have anything when my second child was born two years later, but then the thoughts came back with a vengeance when they were four and six years old.”  –  Sophie* Published in KiwiParent Magazine June 2021

Read the full KiwiParent Magazine article: Perinatal OCD – A penny for your (intrusive) thoughts?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Perinatal OCD Resource

Click here to download the resource; Perinatal OCD – New baby, distressing repetitive thoughts.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

PADA Popup chat video #20 Perinatal OCD with Marion Maw from Fixate

The following video was from our Popup chat #20, featuring Marion Maw from Fixate. Check out our full series of PADA Popup chats and vignettes on our Video page.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Fixate – OCD Support Group

A support group for friends and families of people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Fixate is a Facebook-based support group in Aotearoa New Zealand for people living with OCD, and for those who support someone with OCD. We bring together people to share experiences and information, to form connections and to advocate for OCD awareness. If you’re interested in learning more, please visit our website or email us: [email protected]

To become a group member, please ask to join Fixate on Facebook.

Visit Website: www.ocd.org.nz

Perinatal OCD – a father’s perspective

An informative, moving interview which includes a father’s experience of Perinatal OCD.

Geoff is a member of Facebook-based support group Fixate and shares his story on the international podcast series The OCD Stories, which includes a father’s experience of Perinatal OCD.

“In this episode we discuss his OCD story, harm obsessions, postnatal harm obsessions, working through grief for his brother, suicidal themed OCD worries, his compulsions, his advocacy in New Zealand, and much more.”

The OCD Stories is a free weekly podcast hosted by Stuart Ralph, which you can access through any podcast app, Spotify, the website or YouTube. There are hundreds of episodes featuring experts, and people experiencing OCD symptoms.

Listen to Geoff’s story here

Perinatal OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Living with Perinatal OCD by Catherine Benfield

This article was first published online: 1 Nov 2018  https://doi.org/10.12968/bjom.2018.26.11.700  |  British Journal of Midwifery  |  Vol. 26, No. 11  | Mother’s voice

Obsessive compulsive disorder can have devastating effects on new parents, but is under-researched and poorly understood. Catherine Benfield explains the condition and what midwives can do to help.

“If you had told me 5 years ago that at some point in the future I would be talking to midwives about the nature of my intrusive thoughts, I would be amazed. Amazed and terrified. That’s because 5 years ago I was unknowingly experiencing perinatal obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I was having the most intensely graphic, unwanted, recurring intrusive thoughts about harming my newborn son and, as lovely as I’m sure you all are, you were the last people I wanted to tell about it. I was worried that if I did, you’d begin the proceedings to have my son taken out of my care.”

Read the full article here

Catherine runs the blog Taming Olivia, where she blogs about her experiences with OCD, focusing on perinatal and postnatal OCD. You can also listen to a podcast where she talks about her experience with Perinatal and Postnatal OCD.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Other Resources

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