Postpartum Psychosis (Puerperal Psychosis) is a serious mental health illness that can affect a woman soon after she has a baby.
Giving birth to a baby brings about many changes, and these can include changes in a new mom’s mood and emotions. Some women experience more than the normal ups and downs of the postpartum time period. Many factors play a role in postpartum mental health. During this time, the most severe end of the change spectrum is a condition known as postpartum psychosis, or puerperal psychosis.
Postpartum psychosis (or puerperal psychosis) is a severe mental illness. It starts suddenly in the days, or weeks, after having a baby. Symptoms vary, and can change rapidly. They can include high mood (mania), depression, confusion, hallucinations and delusions. It is a psychiatric emergency – you should seek help as quickly as possible.
It can happen to any woman and often occurs ‘out of the blue’, even if you have not been ill before. It can be a frightening experience for a mother, her partner, friends and family. It can last several weeks or longer – but you will usually recover fully.
Postpartum psychosis is a severe illness and can start in different ways. You can have symptoms of depression or mania or a mixture of these. Symptoms can change very quickly from hour to hour and from one day to the next.
These are some of the symptoms of postpartum psychosis:
- feeling ‘high’, ‘manic’ or ‘on top of the world’.
- low mood and tearfulness.
- anxiety or irritability.
- rapid changes in mood.
- severe confusion.
- being restless and agitated.
- racing thoughts.
- behaviour that is out of character.
- being more talkative, active and sociable than usual.
- being very withdrawn and not talking to people.
- finding it hard to sleep, or not wanting to sleep.
- losing your inhibitions, doing things you usually would not do.
- feeling paranoid, suspicious, fearful.
- feeling as if you’re in a dream world.
- delusions: odd thoughts or beliefs that are unlikely to be true. For example, you might believe you have won the lottery. You may think your baby is possessed by the devil, or that people are out to get you.
- hallucinations: you see, hear, feel or smell things that aren’t really there.
Your symptoms can make it hard for you to properly look after yourself or your baby. During a postpartum psychosis you may not understand that you are ill. However, your partner, family or friends will usually know that something is wrong and that help is needed.
While some women can have postpartum psychosis with no risk factors, there are some factors known to increase a woman’s risk for the condition. They include:
- history of bipolar disorder
- history of postpartum psychosis in a previous pregnancy
- history of schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia
- family history of postpartum psychosis or bipolar disorder
- first pregnancy
- discontinuation of psychiatric medications for pregnancy
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