Postpartum psychosis, also known as puerperal psychosis, is a very rare, extreme form of postpartum mood disorder. According to Postpartum Support International, postpartum psychosis only occurs after one out of every 1,000 births.
Many women experience postpartum blues or depression in the weeks or months after giving birth. Women experience a dramatic drop in their estrogen and progesterone levels after delivery. Coupled with the stress from the changes to their bodies and the adjustment to a new baby, mild postpartum blues are not unusual. Postpartum psychosis, however, is very rare and is considered a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.
Women experiencing postpartum psychosis symptoms usually respond very well to treatment. However, many women who experience the disorder never seek proper postpartum psychosis treatment. Worse, it’s often misdiagnosed or mistaken for normal postpartum blues. Untreated puerperal psychosis may lead to suicide or infanticide.
Postpartum Psychosis Symptoms
Postpartum psychosis goes far beyond normal postpartum blues or even postpartum depression. It strikes swiftly and suddenly: While postpartum depression can take up to a year to manifest, postpartum psychosis symptoms almost always appear within two to three weeks of delivery.
Common postpartum psychosis symptoms include:
- Extreme anxiety and agitation
- Extreme irritability
- Illogical thoughts
- Irrational judgment
- Periods of delirium and mania
- Rapid mood swings
- Refusal to eat
- Thoughts of suicide or homicide.
According to Postpartum Support International, untreated postpartum psychosis has a 5 percent infanticide or suicide rate due to the mother’s break from reality. The delusions associated with puerperal psychosis usually seem to make sense to the mother and are often religious in nature.
Puerperal Psychosis Risk Factors
Women with a history of bipolar disorder or postpartum psychosis are most at risk for developing postpartum psychosis symptoms. Other risk factors include:
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Financial problems
- Lack of a social or emotional support network
- Low self-esteem.
A support network is especially crucial for women who develop postpartum psychosis. These women often don’t realize that they need help, so friends and family must step in to get them the postpartum psychosis treatment they need.
Postpartum Psychosis Treatment
Unlike normal postpartum blues, puerperal psychosis is a medical emergency. Because of the danger of suicide or infanticide associated with the disorder, the mother must get professional help as soon as possible.
Postpartum psychosis treatment typically involves antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication. Individual or group therapy is also beneficial. Women with the disorder may be hospitalized for a short time, especially if they pose a threat to themselves or others. Antipsychotic drugs can pass into a mother’s breast milk, which may be a concern if she is breastfeeding.
With proper diagnosis and postpartum psychosis treatment, most women who experience puerperal psychosis are able to make a full recovery.
Depression Guide Staff. (2005). How to get rid of postpartum psychosis. Retrieved April 22, 2010, from the Depression Guide website: http://www.depression-guide.com/postpartum-psychosis.htm.
Postpartum Support International Staff. (2010). Postpartum psychosis. Retrieved April 22, 2010, from the Postpartum Support International website: http://www.postpartum.net/Get-the-Facts/Postpartum-Psychosis.aspx.
Pregnancy Info Staff. (n.d.). Postpartum psychosis. Retrieved April 22, 2010, from the Pregnancy Info website: http://www.pregnancy-info.net/postpartum_psychosis.html.