Postpartum psychosis is a serious condition that can occur very soon after birth and requires prompt intervention and medical attention. It can be a very scary experience for the mother, her partner and her family and friends. Here’s what you need to know about it and what to do if you have concerns…
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What is postpartum psychosis?
Postpartum psychosis is a rare but serious mental health condition that can affect women after childbirth. It is considered a psychiatric emergency requiring immediate medical attention. It typically occurs within the first few weeks after giving birth, and its symptoms can develop rapidly and escalate quickly.
What are the signs and symptoms?
There are a wide range of signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis. You should seek medical attention immediately if you or someone you know is experiencing any of the following signs and symptoms:
- Confusion or disorientation.
- Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there).
- Delusions (believing things that aren’t true).
- Paranoia or suspiciousness.
- Rapid mood swings or extreme irritability.
- Inability to sleep or sleeping too much.
- Difficulty communicating.
- Feeling disconnected from reality or out of touch with the world.
- Loss of inhibitions or acting very impulsively.
- Thoughts of harming oneself or the baby.
- Difficulty with memory or concentration.
When does postpartum psychosis usually occur?
Postpartum psychosis usually occurs within the first few days and weeks after giving birth, typically within the first two to four weeks. In some cases, it can occur as early as the first 48 to 72 hours after delivery. The condition can get worse rapidly if left untreated and lead to death.
What causes postpartum psychosis?
Postpartum psychosis can affect any woman who has recently given birth, regardless of age, race, or background. It is estimated to affect 1 in 500 women who have recently given birth.
The exact cause of postpartum psychosis is not fully understood. However, it is believed to be a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. Some of the factors that may contribute to the development of postpartum psychosis include:
- Hormonal changes: The dramatic changes in hormone levels that occur during pregnancy and childbirth can affect brain chemistry and contribute to the development of postpartum psychosis.
- Genetics: There may be a genetic component to postpartum psychosis, as women with a family history of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are at a higher risk of developing this condition.
- Previous mental health history: Women who have a history of mental health issues, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, are at a higher risk of developing postpartum psychosis.
- Sleep deprivation and stress: Sleep deprivation and high levels of stress can contribute to the development of postpartum psychosis.
- Traumatic birth experience: Women who have experienced a traumatic birth, such as a prolonged labour, emergency C-section, or postpartum haemorrhage, may be at a higher risk of developing postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum psychosis can develop in women who have no known risk factors, and it is not the result of anything the mother did or did not do. Postpartum psychosis can also affect fathers and partners of the new mother, although it is less common.
What should I do if I think my partner is experiencing postpartum psychosis?
If you suspect that your partner is experiencing postpartum psychosis, you should seek medical attention immediately. Postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment to ensure the safety of the mother and the baby. Here are some steps you can take:
- Encourage your partner to seek medical help: Explain to your partner that postpartum psychosis is a serious condition that requires medical attention. Encourage her to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional.
- Contact your healthcare provider: Contact your partner’s GP, midwife or health visitor as soon as possible. They can provide guidance on the appropriate course of action and refer your partner to a mental health professional if necessary.
- Call 111. If you cannot get through to a GP and don’t know what to do next, call 111 for advice.
- Seek emergency help if necessary: If your partner is exhibiting severe symptoms such as suicidal thoughts, call 999 straightaway or take her to the nearest emergency room.
- Provide emotional support: Postpartum psychosis can be a scary and confusing experience for both the mother and her partner. Offer emotional support and reassurance to your partner during this difficult time.
Early intervention is key for treating postpartum psychosis. This was certainly the case for Laura Dockrill who experienced a traumatic birth in 2018 and subsequently started to develop suicidal thoughts and paranoia. Luckily, her best friend, Adele (yes, that Adele), spotted that something wasn’t right during a video call and advised Laura to get help. Check out more about Laura’s story here and the help she received.
What is the treatment for postpartum psychosis?
The treatment for postpartum psychosis typically involves a combination of medication, such as antipsychotic medication, and psychotherapy. The specific treatment plan will vary depending on symptoms, severity of the condition, and the recommendations of healthcare professionals. Here are some common treatment approaches:
- Medication: Antipsychotic medication is often prescribed to help alleviate the psychotic symptoms associated with postpartum psychosis. These medications work by regulating brain chemicals to reduce hallucinations, delusions, and other symptoms. In some cases, mood stabilisers or antidepressants may be used alongside antipsychotics, depending on the individual’s needs.
- Hospitalisation: If the symptoms of postpartum psychosis are severe or the safety of the mother or baby is at risk, hospitalisation may be necessary. In a hospital setting, the individual can receive intensive monitoring, treatment, and support from a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals.
- Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or family therapy, can be beneficial in helping individuals and their families cope with the aftermath of postpartum psychosis. It can provide emotional support, help with managing stress, and develop coping strategies for dealing with symptoms.
- Supportive care: Social support plays a crucial role in the recovery process. Support groups, both online and in-person, can connect individuals with others who have experienced similar challenges. Practical support from family members, friends, and healthcare providers can also be invaluable in easing the burden of daily responsibilities.
Postpartum psychosis can be very scary for everyone involved, particularly the mother and her family, however, the condition is treatable and many women go on to make a full recovery when prompt medical treatment is provided.
How dangerous is postpartum psychosis?
Postpartum psychosis is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. Prompt intervention and ongoing monitoring are essential to ensure a successful recovery and reduce the risk of relapse.
It is important for new mothers, as well as their partners, friends and family members, to be aware of the signs of postpartum psychosis and to seek medical attention immediately if they are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve the outcome for both the mother and the baby.
Birthbabe does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The resources on our website are provided for informational purposes only. You should always consult with a healthcare professional regarding any medical diagnoses or treatment options.