• Wed, Jan 1 - 10:00 am ET

Postpartum OCD Is Real, And I Know I’ve Had Symptoms Of It

Mom Holding BabyI’ve always been a somewhat anxious person and definitely fall on the obsessive side of the spectrum. (I struggled with an eating disorder in high school, if that’s any clue.) I have gone to counseling in the past, I’ve made efforts to open up a lot, and I think I’ve come a long way to get past major sources of anxiety.

But then I had two kids. And as anyone knows, becoming a parent completely changes you, often for the better. It also brings to light any lingering skeletons you may have hiding in the closet.

As a new parent, I heard a lot about postpartum depression. Most websites have tons and tons of information about the warning signs of PPD, beyond the baby blues. I definitely experienced the baby blues with crazy mood swings and hormonal surges just a few days after giving birth. Once I looked up some more information about what was going on with me, I felt relieved that much of my unfamiliar emotions were hormone-related, and I’d probably go back to being a “happy mom” within a few weeks.

But just a few months after having my first son, I experienced other symptoms that seemed totally off the wall. Namely, obsessive compulsions and intrusive thoughts. At face value, it may sound nutty, but the more I researched and talked to friends about it, the more I found out that these kinds of postpartum OCD behaviors were fairly common in women, often alongside PPD.

The International OCD Foundation says:

Research suggests that postpartum OCD is fairly rare, probably affecting between 1% and 3% of childbearing women…

BUT interestingly, our research indicates that up to 80% of all new mothers (even those without clinical OCD symptoms) report nasty, senseless, unacceptable, unwanted thoughts that are similar to those described by mothers with postpartum OCD. (emphasis mine)

Some typical postpartum obsessions include:

  • Fear of SIDS
  • Thoughts of dropping the baby from a high place
  • Thoughts of putting the baby in the microwave
  • An image of the baby dead
  • Thoughts of the baby choking and being unable to save him
  • Thoughts of drowning the baby during a bath

I have had literally all of the intrusive thoughts listed above, and others. I’ve read that many women are afraid to share these thoughts because they worry what friends and family members will think and even if they will have their kids taken from them, in extreme cases.

Here are a few words of comfort for women that may find themselves in this situation:

Both OCD and psychosis can involve strange, bizarre, and violent thoughts. But the similarities stop there. In postpartum OCD, the sufferer is terrified of committing harm; so much so that it scares her to even think about harming the infant. Women with postpartum OCD resist their obsessional thoughts; meaning that they try to dismiss the obsessions, or neutralize them with some other thought or behavior…

In contrast, women with postpartum psychosis tend to experience their violent thoughts much differently. The violent thoughts might be perceived as consistent with the person’s world view. Hence, such women don’t try to fight these thoughts.

It sucks to struggle with thoughts like these, triggered after having a new baby with a fragile life in your hands. But it may help many women that identify with postpartum OCD to know that you’re not alone. If you feel like you need help and that your thoughts are controlling you, get it as soon as you can. If you struggle with some postpartum obsessions, like I do, just know that it can help to open up about your fears. Understanding that these thoughts can be normal in new moms may make it easier to let them go.

You can reach this post's author, Bethany Ramos, on twitter.
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  • Emil

    Ughh!. I hate my brain sometimes! The other night my husband was watching a documentary about bears and I couldn’t stop thinking about my baby being mauled by a bear. The first couple months I was completely plagued by intrusive thoughts, getting easier now but I don’t think it will ever go away.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Yup, I understand that completely. Every small thing can be the worst thing that you can’t get out of your head.

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      Thanks for writing this. I had no idea this was normal; I remember obsessing about the soft spot and something awful happening to it. This is a relief!

  • Shannon

    I suffered from postpartum OCD after the birth of my baby, and it was terrifying. I would have intrusive thoughts of smothering him or throwing him against a wall. I would burst into tears every day because I loved him with every fiber of my being and I kept seeing these awful things. Luckily I realized I needed help when he was a few months old and got better with therapy and antidepressants. I wish it were as well-known as PPD; I would’ve got help sooner.

  • robbie

    Honest and insightful! I’m a grandmother now but I also had thoughts similar to these but we just hadn’t named them!

  • Williwaw

    I found a book called “Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts: Breaking the Cycle of Unwanted Thoughts in Motherhood” to be somewhat helpful. Even though my kid is two now, though, I still struggle with ridiculous intrusive thoughts and anxieties: I could be out by myself and happen to see a truck backing up, and suddenly imagine a scenario of my son with me, and escaping from my clutch, and running behind the truck, and so on, with all the stress and anxiety from such a horrible imagined scene. I have been unable to make anyone near me understand just how difficult and isolating my postpartum-whatever-it-is has been.

  • Momma425

    In 2006, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, OCD, and PTSD after my son was born still. My mom kept refusing to take me to the doctor, and in was in no mental state to take myself. Mom kept thinking she could talk me out of feeling bad, and was afraid of having a daughter who was crazy. By the time my dad stepped in and insisted that I go to the doctor and drove me there- I had nearly pulled out all of my hair. Almost 8 years later, I still struggle with depression (my therapist said I have general dysthymic disorder, but get waves of more severe depression that come with stressors) and OCD. I still take medication regularly, although I have found a low dose that works for me.
    Looking back, I don’t remember if I have been someone with a personality that leans towards OCD all along, or if I developed those characteristics at some point after losing my baby. What I do know is that what a woman’s body (mind included) goes through during and after pregnancy is NO JOKE.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, and my heart breaks to hear about your son. I think that’s amazing you were able to get the help you need. I totally agree that hormonal and emotional issues after pregnancy are no joke!!

  • Daughter1

    Please, please, please, please, please get treatment!! I grew up with my mom who did not get treatment for these symptoms, and it lead to several psychotic breaks with reality. We need to have real meaningful discussions about mental illness in the world. It is not a weakness. It is an illness and it needs to be treated as one.
    It also lead to a very strained relationship between my mom and I. Now that I am an adult, I can better understand what she was going through, but as a kid and a teenager, I was unable to understand why everything was happening. She pushed away my father because she was afraid he would find out. But if he had just known what was wrong, he would have helped. And 25 years later when he finally did find out, he was able to help her.
    So please, if you are experiencing these symptoms, get help. For you and your child(ren)’s sake

  • SusannahJoy

    I have major problems with intrusive thoughts due to OCD. They def got worse after the baby. I know I should probably get help (my way of dealing with them has been to start shouting obscenities and nonsense, which surprisingly I’ve managed to hide, but it’s getting hard), but it’s hard to get doctors to take that stuff seriously. One told me that those types of thoughts are actually very common (oh, awesome! other people yell
    “slut” at their babies and can’t sleep because it occurred to them that there were babies crying for their moms when the titanic sank and no one could help them and they couldn’t breathe and they were so cold and so scared and ohmygodthatistoomuch!! Cool, I feel better now.) And another was wayyyy overly sympathetic (I don’t do well with overly sympathetic, it makes me want to punch their lying faces, I mean seriously, these people don’t know me, they don’t care that much, so stop faking it!!!). But hey, I’m 15 lbs lighter than I was when I got pregnant, so yay? Or something?

  • Maria

    Hello, I would like to share my story.
    First I would like to start off by saying I have never in my life had any anxiety, OCD, or depression. My son was born in April 2012. Everything was great. I had a wonderful delivery and a healthy baby. I even left the hospital early from a c-section. When my son was about 7 months old he started to get very bad ear infection and was not sleeping well at all. I was so sleep deprived and stress out. Finally in January 11th 2013 it hit me out of no where. It started with dizziness , headache, of balance . I just didn’t feel like myself . Then hell came. Thoughts, images, my subconscious was going crazy. Every thing I saw was turned into a horror movie in my head. I knew this thoughts were wrong and not me. I kept thinking i was going crazy. I went to my doctor after 3 weeks of these horrible thoughts. She told me I was sleep deprived and thoughts come along with it. She send me home. I knew there was more to this. My family and friends told me straight out , you have postpartum . I did some research on my own and came across postpartum OCD. I fit right in with the symptom . The crazy thoughts, images, urge’s thinking I would act on these thoughts all the what if’s every bad thing you can think of I thought of. My subconscious was the worst talking to me. I went to an other doctor were he told me it’s postpartum OCD. I also went to a therapist she told me the same thing that it can happened to any mommy with in the 1st year. I went on meds in the end of June . With time and a great support team I most of my thoughts have gone away. Anxiety , the replay in my Head with all this unthinkable stuff I wanted todo to my kids. It’s been a year of this hell and I’m starting to feel like my self. I do have my up and downs mostly a week before my period is to start. I want to say is that it Dose and it will go all away. Yes it will go away. It just takes time . Sorry for the long story.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Thank you so much for sharing your success story :)

  • Maria

    Bethany!! How are you feeling this days. Has your systoms gone. I have to say. I have my good days and bad days. I do believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It just takes time. I love my kids so much they are my life. I live for them. I still get thoughts here and there. Everyone tells me they will all go away. I real do think deep down they will all go away. I just want to share with everyone who is reading. The difference with postpartum ocd and someone who has been dealing with ocd in there life before. With postpartum ocd it’s tempoary and it does go away it just takes time,
    A lot of time. I just want to give hope to all those moms out there that dealing with this.
    My story is below, I still have a thought here and there with time I know it will go away. I would love to here someones recovery story.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Thank you for checking back in!! That means a lot. :-) I think that my anxiety symptoms have progressively gotten better, and I’m guessing a lot of it was related to hormones. I’ve also started seeing a therapist, which has helped me to put many of these anxious thoughts in perspective. So, yes, while I’m still dealing with anxiety, those very vivid, anxious postpartum thoughts are much better. It does get better!

      Thank you so much for sharing again. I really do wish you the best. :-)

    • Maria

      Bethany. I have a quick question for you. I just saw my doctor she thinks I should stared getting of my meds. I feel I should stay on them. I still get thoughts about my kids and myself when I have my period. I think I should stay on them a little longer. Till all thoughts are gone. Sometimes I just think it’s me reminding myself of the thoughts and,
      then they replay in my head. Best wishes, god bless you.

    • Bethany Ramos

      That’s a hard question to answer, but have you tried therapy before? It may help to work with your doctor on this, but you definitely don’t want to do anything that will make you feel uncomfortable or endangered. I know that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has helped me, which involves confronting many anxieties and negative thoughts.

      I hope all goes well for you, and please keep me updated! :-)