Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviors. People with OCD often suffer from fear, apprehension or worry about everyday occurrences, and these feelings drive them to seek ways to ease the stress. Common symptoms of OCD include excessive washing, hoarding and unusual nervous habits. OCD usually interferes with people’s daily lives, financially, personally and socially. More than two million American adults suffer from OCD, and usually the symptoms begin in childhood.

However, a new study shows that OCD may come on for the first time during pregnancy. If you notice that you become obsessed with certain thoughts or worries when you become pregnant, it could just be the way you’re handling stress. Many women feel a lot of pressure to have the perfect pregnancy, so worrying is common. However, if you notice that these thoughts interfere with your daily life, you’ve probably developed OCD. Many women report feeling OCD specifically regarding germs and dirt. They feel the compulsion to wash their hands or living spaces more often than necessary. Luckily, this should subside when your hormones go back to normal after you’ve given birth.

Similarly, women who have OCD before they become pregnant may notice that pregnancy makes the symptoms worse. If you suffer from OCD and you’re thinking about becoming pregnant, speak with your doctor about mentally preparing for a worsening of symptoms. Especially if you notice that you are more sensitive to your OCD during menstruation, there is a good chance the same will be true during pregnancy. If your OCD is already significant outside of pregnancy, you should consider arming yourself with medications based on your doctor’s recommendations. If your OCD becomes more severe while you are pregnant, there’s a chance it could cause more serious mental problems such as depression or anxiety.

Unlike many other mental disorders, people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder know that they are behaving in an unusual manner. This realization usually adds to the feeling of anxiety. However, it also makes the issue more treatable. If you are suffering from OCD during your pregnancy, you are certainly not alone, but it is not a normal mental pattern. It will add to your overall stress level, which could actually hinder your child’s development. You should consider seeing someone for cognitive-behavioral therapy before resorting to any medications, especially since many are unsafe for fetal development.

Source: Amy Norton: Pregnancy May Trigger or Worsen OCD Symptoms. Journal of Clinical Psychology May 2010