Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is a rare mental illness caused by extreme biochemical imbalance following childbirth. One or two in a thousand women will develop postpartum psychosis in the U.S. alone. In 2010, there were approximately 4 million births (Center for Disease Control 2012), meaning that 4,000 to 8,000 women experience postpartum psychosis each year. Of the women who develop a postpartum psychosis, there is a 5% infanticide or suicide rate associated with the illness (Postpartum Support International 2010).

Empty crib in white room

Of the women who develop a postpartum psychosis, there is a 5% infanticide or suicide rate associated with the illness.

Risk Factors

One of the biggest risk factors is previously diagnosed bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Other risk factors include:

  • Family history of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
  • Previous experience with postpartum depression or psychosis

Signs and Symptoms

Those with postpartum psychosis experience a break from reality, and immediate treatment is required.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis are consistent with those of bipolar I psychotic episode, but have some specific correlations to motherhood. Symptoms can include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Periods of delirium or mania
  • Thoughts of harming the baby or oneself
  • Irrational feelings of guilt
  • Refusing to eat
  • Thought insertion (the notion that other beings or forces can put thoughts or ideas into one’s mind)
  • Decreased need for or inability to sleep
  • Hyperactivity
  • Reluctance to tell anyone about the symptoms

Many survivors of postpartum psychosis never have violent delusions. Delusions take many forms, and not all of them are destructive (Postpartum Support International 2010). Most women who experience postpartum psychosis do not harm themselves or anyone else.

Treatment

Postpartum psychosis is considered to be a mental health emergency. Although temporary and treatable, women must receive immediate help. As a result of the break with reality, those with postpartum psychosis must be monitored and treated by a trained healthcare professional.  After initial treatment, women may move into severe depression, which requires ongoing help and follow up.

Doctors typically treat postpartum psychosis with medications such as anti-psychotic drugs, anti-depressants, and/or anti-anxiety drugs. If a woman poses a threat to herself or her baby, she may be hospitalized for a short time. Many also benefit from counseling and support groups (Pregnancy Info 2012).

If you feel you or someone you know may be suffering from this illness, know that it is not your fault, and you are not to blame. Call your doctor right away to get the help you need.

Works Cited:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Births and Natality.” 14 September 2012.

Postpartum Support International. “Postpartum Psychosis.” 2010.

Pregnancy Info. “Postpartum Psychosis.” 2012.

3 comments

  1. […] wishes to remain anonymous and is still recovering from postpartum psychosis. Learn more about postpartum psychosis. Tags: mental healthmood disorderpostpartum depressionpostpartum psychosisresource […]

  2. Teresa Twomey says:

    Thanks for this article. We tend to think of PPP as extremely rare, but, putting that in perspective, it happens at the same rate as Down Syndrome. Your org. is a wonderful service and blessing to women and families in that area. But I’d like to add to your article that there are a number of other resources – including Postpartum Support International (which offers support, and in some ways acts as an information “clearinghouse” for maternal mental health issues). And for women who have experienced PPP (or their families, therapists or, in certain cases, lawyers) there is my book “Understanding Postpartum Psychosis: A Temporary Madness.” It gives both an overview and first-person insight into this illness.

    • Well Mama says:

      Thank you for helping our website visitors connect to other resources about postpartum psychosis. We direct folks to Postpartum Support International frequently. They do a fabulous job of supporting women and their families during the postpartum period.

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