Study Shows OCD Higher in New Mothers

Posted by Phil Cardenas on Apr 01, 2013

Did I turn the baby on its back to sleep? Will I know what to do if she starts choking? What if I trip and fall while I’m holding him? Did I get the bottles clean enough? Some new mothers, especially first-time moms, constantly worry about how-tos and what-ifs. Is it just a normal reaction caused by mothering instincts, or is it a sign of a more serious underlying problem? Researchers at Northwestern University wanted to know.

They recruited 461 women who delivered babies at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and tested them for anxiety, depression and OCD two weeks after they went home. They study included follow-up with a second test when the moms had been home for six months. The results of the study, recently published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, showed that new mothers are four times more likely to suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorders than the general population, with 11% showing significant symptoms compared to 2-3% of the general population.

Dr. Dana Gossett, a physician at Northwestern and an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, began wondering if there was more to post-partum anxiety 13 years ago when she gave birth to her first daughter and experienced persistent worries herself. “It’s not something you intend to do, it’s not something you want to do, but it’s a thought that comes unbidden into your mind,” she said in an interview published in the Chicago Tribune. “Are they really abnormal or a universal experience for all postpartum mothers?” Gossett said.

When the study results were in, she and her colleagues were surprised by the numbers. “We know that stress of any nature can trigger OCD,” Gossett added. “And we know that childbirth and becoming a mother is enormously stressful.” 

Studies show that stress is a common trigger for OCD, and the Northwestern study indicates that pregnancy and the postpartum period may exacerbate or predispose women to OCD. "It may be that certain kinds of obsessions and compulsions are adaptive and appropriate for a new parent, for example those about cleanliness and hygiene," Gossett said in a report in NewsMax Health, but they should be concerned if it is causing “significant emotional distress” or interfering with everyday life, like preventing them from leaving the garage because they cannot stop checking their child’s car seat.

But the news isn’t all bad. About 50 percent of the women reported their symptoms had subsided six months after giving birth. And while it’s not necessarily comforting to those who had it, about 70 percent of the women with OCD symptoms also had a prior history of depression. So the study may offer some reassurance to new mothers that their thoughts and behaviors are common and likely to pass with time. If symptoms do not subside with time, treatment is available, and Beyond OCD can help people find appropriate treatment.

Beyond OCD wants you to know that OCD can be treated and that relief may be closer than you think. If you want to learn more about OCD, its treatment options, and tap into our may other resources, visit our web site at It’s there to help you get the information you need to get beyond OCD.



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