Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum Psychosis is a rare illness, compared to the rates of postpartum depression or anxiety. It occurs in approximately 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 deliveries, or approximately .1% of births.

Symptoms typically have rapid onset, most often within the first 4 weeks postpartum, and most often if a new mother goes without sleep for an extended period of time.  Symptoms may not always be present; women can cycle through psychosis and normalcy.

Postpartum psychosis is temporary and treatable with professional help, but it is an emergency.  If you feel you or someone you know may be suffering from postpartum psychosis, call your doctor or go to your nearest emergency room so that you can get the help you need.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:

  • Delusions or strange beliefs
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • Feeling very irritated
  • Hyperactivity
  • Decreased need for or inability to sleep
  • Paranoia and suspiciousness
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Difficulty communicating at times

The most significant risk factors for postpartum psychosis are a personal or family history of bipolar disorder, or a previous psychotic episode.
Of the women who develop a postpartum psychosis, there is a 5% infanticide or suicide rate associated with the illness. This is because the woman experiencing psychosis is experiencing a break from reality. In her psychotic state, the delusions and beliefs make sense to her; they feel very meaningful and are often religious. Immediate treatment for these women is imperative.

It is also important to know that many survivors of postpartum psychosis never had delusions containing violent commands. Delusions take many forms, and not all of them are destructive. Most women who experience postpartum psychosis do not harm themselves or anyone else. However, there is always the risk of danger because psychosis includes delusional thinking and irrational judgment, and this is why women with this illness must be treated and carefully monitored by a trained healthcare professional.

Women experiencing postpartum psychosis often need hospitalization and special medical treatment.  Here are the best places to find help:

CaliforniaHuntington Hospital Maternal Wellness Program (Pasadena), El Camino Hospital MOMS Program (Mountain View), MemorialCare Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders Program (Long Beach)

IllinoisPerinatal Intensive Outpatient Program of AMITA Health (Chicago area)

MichiganPine Rest Mother & Baby Program (Grand Rapids)

MinnesotaHennepin Mother-Baby Program (Minneapolis)

New YorkZucker Hillside Perinatal Psychiatry Unit (Glen Oaks)

North CarolinaUniversity of North Carolina Perinatal Psychiatry Inpatient Unit (Chapel Hill)

PennsylvaniaDrexel Mother Baby Connections (Philadelphia)

Rhode IslandWomen & Infants Day Hospital (Providence)

Content provided by Postpartum Support International.

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