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Postpartum Psychosis: What Pregnant Women Need To Know

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Pregnancy often affects a woman's physical health, but it's also important not to overlook the psychological side effects of having a baby. Many women go through pregnancy without any mental health problems, but some new moms suffer with psychological issues that can cause serious problems for mother and baby, including a rare condition called postpartum psychosis. If you're expecting a baby, learn more about this serious mental health condition, and how this may affect you after your baby is born.


A lot of moms suffer with depression after the birth of their child. Commonly, new mothers suffer with a relatively mild form of depression that most people refer to as the baby blues. For some mothers, more serious, long-term depression can develop after the baby blues. Postpartum psychosis is a rare, severe form of depression that affects some new mothers within the first two weeks of a child's birth.

Women with postpartum psychosis can experience many of the symptoms of depression, including insomnia, irritability and mood swings, but more serious side effects can also occur. These include:

  • Confusion
  • Delusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Attempts to self-harm or hurt the baby

In the United States, the CDC estimates that 8 to 19 percent of women suffer from postpartum depression. Postpartum psychosis affects a small proportion of these new mothers.

Risk factors

Some pregnant women are at higher risk of postpartum depression and psychosis. Women with a history of depression are more likely to suffer with the condition, as well as moms who suffer complications during pregnancy or birth. Unwanted or unplanned pregnancies are also more likely to lead to these problems.

Doctors believe that some women have a genetic disposition to postpartum depression. Severe sleep deprivation after a child's birth can also cause mental health problems, particularly with the rapid hormonal changes that take place in a woman's body.

Your treatment options

Doctors treat postpartum psychosis as a psychiatric emergency, and you are likely to need immediate treatment to keep you and your baby safe. Many hospitals offer a psychiatric mother-baby unit, where you will sometimes stay with your newborn while doctors make sure you get the support and help you need. In more severe cases, doctors may recommend that your partner or family members look after your baby while you get better.

Many moms with postpartum psychosis respond well to medications, including antidepressants, antipsychotics and mood stabilizers. A doctor will carefully consider the right combination of drugs to help you recover. In rare cases, some new mothers need electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which helps manage the chemical changes that cause the condition.

Postpartum psychosis is often frightening for both parents, and your doctor may recommend counseling to help you cope with the effects of the condition. While treatment can help you recover from the symptoms, it can take longer to deal with the psychological effects of the psychosis.


If you are at higher risk of depression, it's important to take extra care during pregnancy. Doctors recommend that you tell your doctor or psychiatrist that you plan to have children, so he or she can help you plan for the pregnancy. Pregnancy counseling can help moms with existing mental health problems cope with postpartum depression, but you may also need to see an experienced prenatal psychiatrist. Your midwife or obstetrician should also know about your condition, and you should let everyone know what medications you are using.

You should also pay close attention to other stress factors. It's important to get as much sleep as possible, and you should also make sure that you eat a healthy, balanced diet. Talk to your partner about how he or she can help with night-time feeds once the baby is born, and think about any triggers that might increase the risk of depression.

Postpartum psychosis is a serious condition that threatens the health of mom and her newborn baby. If you are at risk of depression, don't struggle through your pregnancy without help. Talk to your doctor or psychiatrist as soon as possible about the steps you can take to prevent this dangerous condition.