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OCD Symptoms Triggered By Pregnancy Hormones?

A new study at the Yale University School of Medicine suggests a link between hormonal changes in pregnancy and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) symptoms. Of the mothers in the study with OCD, 32% experienced their first symptoms while pregnant or postpartum.

About a third of the women with pre-pregnancy OCD, reported an increase in symptoms during and right after pregnancy. (Interestingly, 22% of the women with pre-pregnancy OCD were relieved of symptoms during pregnancy.)

According to lead researcher Dr. Ariadna Forray– speaking to Reuters–doctors should be aware that OCD may be triggered or tweaked by pregnancy hormones and keep an eye out for it. This is especially true in cases where a woman has previously experienced OCD symptoms premenstrually. “These women may have a differential sensitivity to reproductive hormones, and, as such, normal reproductive events are triggers for the onset or exacerbation of OCD,”

I can relate to this. I experienced some OCD behaviors postpartum, among them was an uncharacteristic obsession with cleanliness. I would clean or ask people to clean and then sit and find imperfections– there was a crack in the plaster I was acutely and inescapably aware of. It wasn’t so bad–the apartment was clean!– but it was a little intense at times. (I wonder if there’s a connection between the postpartum hormones and whatever part of the brain is in charge of grooming. Could the “obsessive grooming” and cleaning associated with OCD be a deviation of  maternal instincts to groom offspring?)

OCD behavior can be severe. New mothers can become locked into obsessive thoughts and behaviors– about germs, the baby’s well-being or any number of things– and it can interfere with daily life. It can be accompanied by postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety which affect up to 15-20% of new mothers. “Normal” postpartum emotions include a huge range of feelings including depression, anxiety and mildly obsessive behavior. It’s when there’s no to little range of feelings, that a red flag goes up. Congnative-behavioral therapy and medication are used to treat OCD.

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