What is Perinatal OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. The term is often misused in daily conversation – for example, you might hear people talk about being 'a bit OCD' if they like things to be neat and tidy. But the reality of this disorder is a lot more complex and serious.

Perinatal OCD is when you experience OCD during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth. Studies suggest  between 2.5% and 9% of women will experience OCD at some point during pregnancy and within the first year after birth.

OCD has two main parts:

  • obsessions – intrusive thoughts, ideas or urges that repeatedly appear in your mind. For example, thinking that you have been contaminated by dirt and germs, or worrying that you might hurt someone.

  • compulsions – repetitive activities that you feel you have to do. This could be something like repeatedly washing something to make sure it’s clean, or repeating a specific phrase in your head to prevent harm from coming to a loved one.

The aim of a compulsion is to relieve the intense anxiety caused by obsessive thoughts. However, the process of repeating these compulsions is often distressing in itself, and any relief you feel is often short-lived. 

Common Signs & Symptoms

If you experience perinatal OCD, you're likely to have obsessions and compulsions that relate to your feelings about being a parent and your baby. Here are some common obssessions and compulsions:


  • intrusive thoughts about hurting your baby, by suffocating them or throwing them down the stairs, for example

  • disturbing thoughts of sexually abusing your child

  • intrusive thoughts of accidentally harming your baby while you're pregnant by eating dangerous foods or taking the wrong medication

  • fear of being responsible for giving a child a serious disease such as HIV

  • fear of making the wrong decision – for example, about vaccinations or medical treatment


  • excessive washing of clothes, toys or bottles

  • avoiding changing soiled nappies out of fear that you might accidentally touch your baby inappropriately

  • keeping your baby away from other people in case they hurt them or contaminate them

  • constant checking on the baby – for example, waking them up when they're asleep to check on them

  • repeatedly asking people around you for reassurance that your baby hasn't been hurt or abused

  • mentally going over what happened each day to reassure yourself that you've not been responsible for harming your baby


The main treatment for OCD is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), particularly a specific form of CBT called exposure and response prevention (ERP). This is a talking treatment that helps you understand how your OCD works and what you need to do to overcome it. Your therapist will help you confront your obsessions and learn how to resist the urge to carry out compulsions.

You may also be offered medication to treat your anxiety. Some people find that taking medication alongside a talking treatment can help them get the most out of their therapy. If there are long waiting times in your area for talking treatments, your doctor might suggest that you try medication while you wait.

Many mums who are experiencing anxiety and OCD find it helpful to have the support of a mum befriender  - you can find out more here.

© 2016 Nurture the Borders C.I.C

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