Postpartum Psychosis

A serious medical emergency

Postpartum psychosis (also know as peurperal psychosis or postnatal psychosis) is a rare but very serious mental illness, and must be treated as a medical emergency.

If you are experiencing any of the below symptoms you should get in touch with emergency services, or speak to your GP as soon as possible who will probably refer you for immediate psychiatric support.

You might not realise you are unwell and therefore it maybe your partner, friends or family who need to take action on your behalf. If symptoms are left unchecked they will become rapidly worse and increase the risk of you harming yourself or your baby.

You will probably need to be treated in hospital, and usually in a specialist unit with your baby. One or more of the following drugs may be prescribed: anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and/or mood stabilisers.

Who is at risk?

You are more at risk from developing the illness if you have a family history of mental health illness (particularly postpartum psychosis), already have a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, developed postpartum psychosis after a previous pregnancy, or have experienced a traumatic pregnancy and birth. If you think you might be at risk you should seek specialist care throughout your pregnancy and be seen by a psychiatrist.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis

Symptoms usually begin suddenly within the first couple of weeks/month after giving birth. The most severe symptoms can last from 2 to 12 weeks, and recovery can take from 6 months to a year, after which may be followed by a period of depression as you come to terms with what has happened, and any difficulties bonding with your baby.

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions (thoughts or beliefs that aren’t true)
  • A manic mood (rapid thinking and speech, ‘feeling high’)
  • Depression
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Confusion
  • Behaving out of character

Psychotherapy and trauma therapy can help during the period of recovery and beyond. With the correct treatment most women make full recovery and go on to birth subsequent children.

Useful reading

Understanding Postpartum Psychosis: A Temporary Madness. Teresa Twomey.
A Mother’s Climb Out of Darkness: A Story about Overcoming Postpartum Psychosis. Jennifer H. Moyer.
Insanity’s Shoes: My Running Trip Through Postpartum Psychosis. Angela Tompkins.