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Managing OCD During Pregnancy

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Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in Chattanooga, TN
Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Dr. Mohsin Ali MD is board certified in Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Trained in Syracuse NY, he has worked in Tennessee for the last sixteen years.

Table of Contents

Pregnancy and post-partum, as we know it, can have unusual effects on a woman’s body. Those with conditions before pregnancy may experience heightened symptoms which can cause the pregnancy to be even more difficult. In the case of Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD), women can develop this condition or the worsening of an existing diagnosis. It is essential to take note of signs of this condition, risks, and treatment options as symptoms can begin to affect your daily life and well-being. 

What Is Perinatal OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears that cause repetitive behaviors. During pregnancy or in the first year after birth, a person might experience OCD. This is known as perinatal OCD. You may have heard about postpartum depression, as it is more common. However, numerous mental health disorders can arise during pregnancy and after birth. Perinatal OCD affects roughly 7 to 11 percent of women during pregnancy. 

There are two primary components of obsessive-compulsive disorder – obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are the unwelcome thoughts and doubts that repeatedly occur. They can cause mental discomfort and make you feel anxious. 

On the other hand, compulsions are behaviors that form or activities you may do to reduce the anxiety caused by obsessions. These behaviors can look like repeatedly checking the locks on your door or washing your hands multiple times after touching something dirty. 

Signs and Symptoms of Perinatal OCD

While it is normal to have some anxiety about your baby’s health and well-being during pregnancy and after birth, you may be experiencing perinatal OCD if you begin experiencing obsessions and compulsions. It can be challenging to ask for help regarding your condition. However, there are treatment options and support available that you might find helpful. Some common examples of obsessions and compulsions that may show in individuals with perinatal OCD include the following.

Obsessions

  • Fear that things are contaminated by germs or dirt. 
  • Anxiety about something you did or did not do 
  • Fear of giving the baby a severe disease 
  • Fear of making a wrong decision for your child

Compulsions

  • Excessive washing of the baby’s clothes, toys, or bottles 
  • Constantly checking on the baby 
  • Seeking reassurance that you have not done anything to harm the baby

If you are experiencing any of the above obsessions and compulsions, remember perinatal OCD is an illness that can be treated, and it is not your fault.

Potential Causes of Perinatal OCD

The transition to parenthood can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. This and several other factors are risk factors for perinatal OCD. While it is not guaranteed that you will develop this condition during pregnancy, these factors may put you at a greater risk.

  • A family history of anxiety disorders
  • If you are sensitive to hormone changes
  • If you have had pregnancy losses before 

There are many reasons why scientists believe pregnant women are vulnerable to OCD. These include both environmental and biological factors. Some believe that the change in hormones can intensify symptoms of OCD. Others believe the cause lies in a woman’s personal experiences and correlate more directly with stressors in their lives. 

Treatment Options for Perinatal OCD

Symptoms for obsessions and compulsions can lead to issues far beyond pregnancy and post-partum. Gladly, there are a number of treatment options available for this condition. Understandably, it is frustrating to experience symptoms of perinatal OCD with no structured way to cope. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of this condition, speak with your healthcare provider to learn about the treatment options. Even if you are still pregnant or breastfeeding, medications, and other support options are available to help you manage this condition.

Therapy

The therapies that are commonly available for women who are struggling with perinatal OCD are cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP). 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of treatment that can help individuals identify and combat problematic thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. The aim of CBT in OCD treatment is to help individuals develop new and effective ways to respond to obsessions and compulsions. CBT is a type of talk therapy where the patient will be guided to identify, recognize, and manage compulsions and obsessions. 

Exposure and response prevention therapy is another form of talk therapy. Patients are gradually exposed to their fears or obsessions in a safe and controlled environment. Therapy increases in intensity as more fears are overcome. Instead of avoiding intrusive thoughts, your therapist will encourage you to face them without carrying out compulsions. 

Both of these therapies can be challenging to work through. However, treating your perinatal OCD will allow you to live your life without the added stressor of this condition. 

Medications 

Your care provider may also prescribe medication to treat the symptoms of perinatal OCD. Medicines used to treat this condition are safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding, so there is no reason to worry about this option. Medications will likely be issued to treat anxiety symptoms in addition to a therapy plan. 

For some, getting the most out of treatment can mean combining therapy with medication.

Talk to Someone You Trust 

Dealing with perinatal OCD can be very difficult. It can be a constant battle against negative thoughts and emotions. Talking to someone you can trust may be a good option so you are not going through this alone. They might be able to provide resources or provide the support you need during a challenging time.

Manage Your OCD With Iris Wellness Group in Chattanooga, TN

Iris Wellness Group is dedicated to providing excellent care to all our clients. OCD is a condition that can be challenging enough without the added element of pregnancy. Like other mental health disorders, this is nothing to be ashamed of. If you find that your condition is affecting your life and becoming more challenging to manage, give us a call today. If you are interested in treatment for your OCD, contact our team today to schedule an appointment or schedule a tour. Take care of yourself by getting help for your OCD. 

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