Obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms and intrusive thoughts in the postpartum period: Associations with trauma exposure and PTSD symptoms

Stress Health. 2023 Sep 7. doi: 10.1002/smi.3316. Online ahead of print.


In a community sample of trauma-exposed postpartum individuals (N = 167; mean age = 30, 90% White; 61.7% completed bachelor's degree or higher) longitudinally completed self-report measures on PTSD, depressive, and Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms (specifically checking, ordering, washing, and obsessing symptoms), preoccupation with intrusive postpartum thoughts/neutralising strategies, and trauma exposure at 4 and 12 weeks postpartum. PTSD symptoms were strongly associated with all OCD symptoms (r = 0.32- 0.49, p < 0.001), preoccupation with postpartum-specific intrusive thoughts (r = 0.32-0.45, p < 0.001), and preoccupation with neutralising strategies (r = 0.21-0.29, p < 0.05) at both time points. PTSD symptoms were also predictive of checking and obsessing symptoms. This study identified PTSD symptoms as a new correlate for preoccupation with postpartum-specific intrusive thoughts and neutralising strategies in the postpartum period in a community sample. These findings add to the evidence suggesting a strong association between PTSD and OCD symptoms across the lifespan, including in non-clinical samples. Future research should examine best practices to assess and treat a variety of postpartum psychopathology symptoms, not just depression.

Keywords: obsessive-compulsive disorder; postpartum period; postpartum-specific intrusive thoughts; posttraumatic stress disorder; trauma history.