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What is perinatal obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Mum wondering whether she locked the front door

Perinatal obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs during pregnancy and in the first 12 months after birth.

Symptoms of OCD may start at any time during pregnancy or in early parenthood.

Perinatal OCD often goes undiagnosed and untreated or is misdiagnosed as something else. This is why it's so crucial people seek help early. It can be a really distressing condition, but the specialist support that's available for OCD can provide effective relief from symptoms.

Helpful Information

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Signs and symptoms of perinatal OCD

Perinatal OCD has two main types of symptoms:

Obsessions: unwanted thoughts, images or urges that keep coming into your mind (like thoughts or mental images of your baby being hurt, or intense fear of germs or illness).

Compulsions: thoughts or actions you repeat to reduce your anxiety (like constantly checking baby is still breathing, or excessively cleaning and sterilising bottles).

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Obsessions

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Compulsions

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Perinatal OCD or something else?

Treatment for perinatal OCD

Perinatal OCD is a very treatable mental health condition. The best treatment for you will depend on your personal situation, including the type and severity of symptoms you’re experiencing. Effective treatment for perinatal OCD includes mental health support and counselling, sometimes with medication.

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Counselling

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Medication and requesting a medication review

People experiencing perinatal OCD are not at increased risk of harming their baby

In fact, expecting and new parents experiencing perinatal OCD may go to extreme lengths to stop any perceived threat of harm to their baby, which can reinforce the repetitive cycle of anxiety and fear-based thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

The greatest risk of perinatal OCD is for the person experiencing the extremes of OCD symptoms – including severe distress and reduced ability to function in daily life.

How do I manage pregnancy and early parenthood if I already have a history or diagnosis of OCD?

If you have a pre-existing diagnosis or history of OCD it’s a good idea to speak to your antenatal care providers (like your doctor and midwife) about your mental health.

It’s important to discuss:

  • How to manage your mental health during pregnancy and after your baby is born.
  • What to do if you notice a change in your mental health, like an increase in obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
  • Whether your current mental healthcare options (like medication) will change if you’re planning a baby, pregnant or breastfeeding.

Help is available if you think you’re experiencing perinatal OCD


If obsessions and/or compulsions are upsetting to you and affecting any aspect of your daily life, it’s a good idea to share what’s happening with a trusted health and care provider like your doctor, counsellor or midwife.

If you’re having any distressing thoughts or feelings, please know that you’re not alone. All expecting and new parents need care, support, and encouragement to talk about what they’re experiencing – including you.

The earlier you seek support, the sooner you can start learning how to manage your mental health and wellbeing in new ways that feel right for you.

Monique's story: Experiencing Perinatal OCD

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PANDA National Helpline

Find someone to talk to, Monday to Saturday.

1300 726 306

Call 000 for police and ambulance if you or someone else are in immediate danger

Talk with friends or family

Consider talking about how you are feeling with someone you trust. This might be a friend or family member. Once you starting talking you might be surprised at how many others have had similar experiences and the support they can provide you.

Talk with your doctor

Talking with your doctor can be an important step to getting the help you need. They should be able to give you non-judgemental support, assessment, diagnosis, and ongoing care and treatment. They can also refer you to specialists such as a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Get help now

If you are having suicidal thoughts or are feeling disorientated it’s important to get help immediately. PANDA is not a crisis service, if you need immediate support call Lifeline 13 11 14 (24/7).

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Everyone’s experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting is unique and brings different rewards and challenges. Our mental health checklist can help you to see if what you’re experiencing or observing in a loved one could be a reason to seek help.