THURSDAY, Sept. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Many new mothers feel a bit anxious about caring for their infant. But sometimes that concern develops into an obsession over all the things that can go wrong.
Experts call that condition postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder. It can drive women to take extreme steps to prevent their fears from coming true, such as endlessly washing the infant to stave off germs to the point where the baby develops sores, or refusing to hold the baby out of fear of dropping him.
Although postpartum depression gets far more attention, postpartum OCD can also be harmful to mother and child, said Kiara Timpano, an assistant psychology professor at University of Miami in Florida.
"It's a very normal part of parenting to want to try to protect and keep your children safe," Timpano said. "What happens with OCD is that natural vigilance is turned up way too high.
Not only do moms with OCD worry excessively, they become so distressed by their thoughts that they try to control them through ritualistic or repetitive behaviors, Timpano said.
"For example, a mother may be overwhelmed by thoughts about her baby getting sick from germs, and may respond by washing the baby bottles for hours at a time," she said. "Very quickly, these symptoms can start to take over an individual's life."
About 1 in 100 adults has OCD, Timpano said. Getting a firm estimate on how many new moms experience postpartum OCD is difficult, but researchers said the number ranges from 2 to 9 percent, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe.
It's unknown what triggers it, but women who've had anxiety disorders or OCD before giving birth are more vulnerable, Timpano said. Having a baby is an enormous life transition accompanied by huge hormonal and other physiological changes, which may contribute.
To see if postpartum OCD is preventable, Timpano and he
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