Background: The puerperium has typically been a period of risk for the development of psychiatric illness. Although postpartum depressive illness has been discussed extensively in the literature, obsessive compulsive disorder during pregnancy and puerperium has received little attention.
Method: Fifteen women with new-onset obsessive compulsive symptoms during the puerperium were retrospectively evaluated by chart review; all met DSM-III-R criteria for obsessive compulsive disorder. Distinctive features of their clinical presentation, pharmacotherapy received, and status at 1-year follow-up were recorded.
Results: Patients were noted to have a characteristic constellation of symptoms comprised of disabling intrusive obsessional thoughts to harm their babies. Obsessive rituals were not observed in any of the patients described. Patients frequently developed secondary depression and appeared to be exquisitely responsive to serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors.
Conclusion: The puerperium may be a period of risk for development of new-onset obsessive compulsive disorder. Clinicians caring for puerperal women need to be aware of the impact of these symptoms on maternal and fetal well-being.