What Is Parental OCD?

Becoming a parent can be a daunting experience, and it is not uncommon for parents to encounter a rollercoaster of emotions following the birth of their child. For some, however, the arrival of a child can present the onset, or worsening, of OCD symptoms, which can have a significant impact on family life.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder, better known as OCD, is a form of anxiety disorder made up of three parts: obsessions, emotions, and compulsions.

  • Obsessions are intrusive, irrational, and distressing thoughts that repeatedly enter the mind and that cannot be controlled.
  • Emotions are caused by the obsession and usually create a feeling of intense anxiety, fear, or distress.
  • Compulsions are rituals or repetitive behaviors that the person feels compelled to carry out in order to help ease the distress caused by the obsessional thoughts and fears.

The compulsions only cause temporary relief, and the obsessional thoughts then return, causing the cycle to start again.

OCD can vary in its severity, and symptoms are not always obvious to others. OCD can manifest itself in a number of different ways and with varying symptoms. Some common obsessions that affect OCD sufferers include:

  • Fear of deliberately or violently harming yourself or other people, such as fearing you may attack your children
  • Fear of unintentionally harming yourself or other people, such as causing a house fire by accidently leaving the stove on
  • Fear of germs or contamination by a disease or infection

Compulsions vary and aren’t necessarily realistically connected to the obsessive thoughts but may help to neutralize them temporarily. Examples include counting, ordering and arranging, and repetitive thought processing (internally repeating words or neutralizing thoughts) to counter the obsessive thoughts. Other common compulsive behaviors and rituals include excessive:

  • Cleaning
  • Hand washing
  • Checking (doors are locked, windows are closed, the gas is turned off)
  • Carrying out certain rituals (switching a light on and off, repeating a phrase or thought, or clapping a set number of times)
  • Ordering and arranging (a need for symmetry)
  • Hoarding
  • Seeking reassurance

Parental OCD

Parental OCD typically shares many of the same symptoms as regular OCD, but the obsessions are often related to the child in some way. It can develop right before or after childbirth but typically occurs within six weeks of the child being born. Some however, may even develop symptoms during pregnancy.

Mothers often experience a mixture of emotions following the birth of a child, and the postpartum period is considered a time of increased risk for mood and anxiety disorders, such as OCD and depression. This can be due to a number of factors, such as the transition into motherhood, life and family adjustments, sleep deprivation, physical and emotional changes, and profound changes in hormones. Hormones, such as estrogen, can disrupt the activity of neurotransmitters and serotonin in the brain, which has been strongly associated with the development of OCD.

Parental OCD may also develop when the child is a bit older and more independent, such as when they are due to start daycare or school. This may be the first time the child is away from home and not under close supervision of the parent, which can lead to anxiety and a sense of loss of control that the child may not have their needs met, that they are unsafe, or that they are being readily exposed to germs and illnesses.

For a person with preexisting OCD, life transitions or periods of high stress can trigger or exacerbate symptoms even if the condition had been successfully managed beforehand. A new baby or becoming a new parent can trigger anxieties as well as new thoughts and fears, leading to OCD.

Parental OCD can have a significant impact on family life. It can affect the normal bonding between a parent and the baby, particularly if there are aggressive obsessional thoughts relating to harming the baby. It can also cause significant suffering for the parent and other family members involved.

Diagnosis and Treatment

OCD symptoms can vary in severity, and it is typically diagnosed if it is having a significant impact on the parent or other family members’ lives. A psychiatrist can diagnose OCD by looking into family history, symptoms, and conducting evaluations or questionnaires.  Although there is no cure for OCD, there are effective treatments to reduce or control symptoms.

Treatments for parental OCD is much like the treatment for others with OCD and can help to provide symptom relief and allow you to live an active and full life. Effective treatments include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, to help you learn how to decrease and stop your obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors
  • Medication, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which help to control unwanted thoughts and compulsions. There are different types of SSRIs, and you may need to try different medications before finding the one that works best for you.

Comprehensive Care in Southbury and New York

If you are suffering with parental OCD, get the effective care you need today from psychiatrist Dr. Mark Stracks of Psy-Visions. We offer comprehensive services to deliver the highest quality of care for clients suffering from a wide range of conditions and disorders. If you would like to find out more about our treatment services, or to make an appointment, call us today at (203) 405-1745 or (718) 887-2918 . You can also use our confidential online form.

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