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Bipolar disorder and having a baby

What is Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder, previously called Manic Depression, is a serious mental illness that affects about 1 in every 100 people. People with Bipolar Disorder have severe mood swings that last for weeks or months. They may experience the following symptoms:

  • Low mood (depression) - feeling extremely low in mood, sad or hopeless.

  •  High mood (mania) - feeling extremely happy or elated.
     Some people may experience mania in a milder form, this is  called hypomania.

  • Mixed mood - feeling aspects of both low and high mood e.g.  feeling depressed but also very restless.

  • Psychotic symptoms - if the depression or mania is very severe you may start to believe things that are not true (delusions) or see or hear things that are not there (hallucinations).

 

Everybody experiences low or high mood from time to time, but if the mood is very extreme, lasts for a long time and is affecting your daily life it is important to seek help.

What causes Bipolar Disorder?

Despite lots of research it is not yet clear what causes Bipolar Disorder, although it does seem to have a strong biological basis.

Some factors that are related to its onset are:

  • Genetics - Bipolar Disorder seems to run in families
  • Physical problems with parts of the brain that control our moods - this is why Bipolar Disorder responds well to medication
  • Episodes of depression or mania can be triggered by stressful or traumatic life experiences.

 

How is Bipolar Disorder treated?

Bipolar Disorder can be managed very effectively with a combination of medication and psychological therapies, but there is not yet a cure. Medication plays a very important part in recovery and preventing future relapses. It is essential to take your medication as prescribed.
 
Medication is used to:

  • Keep your moods stable long-term
  • Treat current episodes of depression, mania or mixed mood
     

Other strategies that you can use in addition to medication include:

  • Psycho-education - learning more about the condition
  • Monitoring your mood for early changes
  • Learning strategies to try to stop your mood from escalating into an episode

 

Bipolar Disorder and Having a Baby

Planning a Pregnancy

Having a baby can be a vulnerable time for women with Bipolar Disorder as there is a high risk of relapse during pregnancy and after giving birth. You will need to meet with your doctor whilst planning a pregnancy so you can be fully informed of the risks and a thorough care plan can be put in place for during and after pregnancy.
 
It is essential that you do not make any changes to your medication or treatment plan without speaking to a doctor or psychiatrist first.

  • Your doctor will discuss with you what medication regime will be safest for you and your unborn baby.
  • Protecting yourself from a relapse is of the highest importance for both you and your baby.
  • It is likely that you will relapse if you stop your medication without a doctor’s advice.


Preventing a Relapse

There is a high risk of relapse during pregnancy and after giving birth. To protect yourself you should:

  • Take your medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor.

  • Monitor your mood closely and report any early symptoms or concerns to a professional as soon as possible e.g. changes in your sleep pattern, eating habits or energy levels.

  • Receive treatment for symptoms as early as possible to reduce the impact on you and your baby.

 

During Pregnancy

  • During pregnancy you will need to meet regularly with your doctor and other professionals involved in your care. They will monitor you closely for early signs of a mood episode.

  • The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend that women with Bipolar Disorder should have specialist care from a psychiatrist and if possible a perinatal mental health service during and after pregnancy.

 

After the Birth

  • It may not be possible to breastfeed whilst taking some medications, you will need to discuss this with your doctor.

  • There is a high risk of you experiencing an episode or developing Postpartum Psychosis after giving birth. You should  be monitored closely and treated quickly for early symptoms.

  • If necessary, NICE recommend inpatient treatment, preferably on a specialist Mother and Baby unit if symptoms do occur.