What is Postpartum Psychosis?
Postpartum Psychosis, also called Puerperal Psychosis (PP) is a rare, but severe, mental illness which has a sudden onset in the first few weeks following childbirth. It affects about 1 in 500 -1000 new mothers and approximately 1300 women experience PP each year in the UK.
Women with PP may experience several of the following symptoms:
- High mood (mania) e.g. over excited, inability to sleep, racing thoughts or pressure to talk too much
- Low mood (depression) e.g. lack of energy, poor appetite and poor sleep.
- Psychotic symptoms such as believing things that are not true (delusions) or seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations).
- Extreme confusion
With treatment, the vast majority of women will recover fully and there is little evidence of any long term effects on the relationship between a mother and her baby.
What causes Postpartum Psychosis?
Unfortunately we know little about the causes of PP. Most evidence points to biological, probably hormonal, factors related to pregnancy and childbirth but many other factors are likely to be involved.
The known risk factors for developing PP are having a personal or family history of PP or Bipolar Disorder.
Women who have had PP have a 60% chance of developing PP when they have another child.
Women who have Bipolar Disorder have a 25-50% chance of developing PP when they have their first child.
Examples of how it might affect you
Feelings: Frightened, Confused, Irritated, Suspicious, Elated, Low
Thoughts: My food is poisoned, People are out to get me, I can’t trust anyone, I have a special mission
Behaviours: Neglecting personal hygiene and care of baby, Seeing things that are not there, Hearing voices when people aren’t there, Excessive energy, Always on the go
Beliefs: My baby is evil, My baby will save the world, I can communicate with other worlds
Bodily reactions: Full of energy, Excited, Can’t sleep, Tension, Hard to concentrate Loss of energy, Exhaustion
Relationships: Isolating self, Avoiding people, Getting into arguments
What can help?
Psychosis can be managed effectively and most people with PP make a good recovery, but there is not yet a cure. Here are some suggestions for managing psychosis:
PP is a major mental illness and usually requires inpatient treatment.
It is preferable for treatment to take place in a Mother and Baby Inpatient setting.
Taking medication regularly as prescribed by your doctor is essential for recovery.
Breastfeeding may not be possible because of the need for medication, please discuss this with your doctor.
Sleep and rest is another very important part of treatment.
Support in caring for the baby is essential in the early stages of recovery.
Breastfeeding may not be the best choice for you and your baby during recovery.
Talk to your doctor about your thoughts and feelings.
Look after yourself by having a balanced diet and exercise.
Learn to calm yourself by doing relaxation exercises.
Talk to your friends and family and get support.It can be helpful to talk to other women who have had similar experiences. Action for Puerperal Psychosis is a network for women who have experienced PP you can visit their website at: www.app-network.org
Planning on extending your family?
IF YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS PLEASE CONTACT YOUR GP, HEALTH VISITOR OR OTHER HEALTH PROFESSIONAL WHO WILL BE ABLE TO GIVE YOU FURTHER ADVICE.