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New Mothers Suffer from OCD at 4x the Rate of the General Population

Update Date: Mar 06, 2013 12:24 PM EST
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New mothers are familiar with the nagging fears after bringing home their bundle of joy from the hospital. Questions like: What if I fall down the stairs while holding the baby? Is the baby still breathing? What about germs? In fact, many of these worries may be symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder. Researchers have found that new mothers suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) at four times the rate of the general population. The study leads researchers to wonder whether postpartum depression is a large depressive episode or whether it is an entirely new disease in and of itself.

According to CBS News, researchers examined 461 women who delivered their babies at a specific hospital in Chicago. The women were all surveyed two weeks after giving birth. Then, six months later, researchers followed up with 329 of them. All of the women reported their own symptoms; none of them saw psychiatrists to receive formal diagnoses.

In total, 11 percent of the mothers suffered from OCD symptoms. In comparison, OCD appears in 2 to 3 percent of the general population. In addition, 70 percent of the mothers with OCD symptoms also exhibited depression.

"We know that stress of any nature can trigger OCD," study author Dr. Dana Gossett said to the Chicago Tribune. "And we know that childbirth and becoming a mother is enormously stressful."

The good news is that the symptoms are the result of hormonal changes and are temporary. In fact, half of the women who displayed symptoms of OCD saw their symptoms subside by the six-month mark. However, 5.4 percent of new mothers saw symptoms of OCD bubble up at six months. Researchers say that, in these cases, it is less likely that the symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder are related to hormone fluctuations.

"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 statement. "But when it interferes with normal day-to-day functioning and appropriate care for the baby and parent, it becomes maladaptive and pathologic."

OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Sufferers of the condition may go through ritualistic behaviors in order to eliminate the thoughts.

The study was published in The Journal of Reproductive Medicine.

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