Postpartum Psychosis - Causes, Symptoms And Treatments


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Being a mother is the most wonderful feeling for women, but it was not for Michelle Parker (name changed). Though life had blessed Michelle with a baby boy, bizarre sleepless nights would torment her with scary visions and hallucinations. She even cut herself few times and thought that her husband was a serial killer!

With the passing of every day, Michelle became more scared, confused, and paranoid. Several doctors examined her and finally, Michelle was diagnosed with Postpartum Psychosis.

What is Postpartum Psychosis?

Postpartum Psychosis, also known as Postpartum (Postnatal or puerperal) Psychosis, is a mental illness that afflicts young mothers immediately after child birth. This surfaces with the sudden onset of various psychotic symptoms like hallucinations and extreme mood swings for which the person would need immediate psychotic hospitalization. However it is less common than, and different from Baby Blues and Post Natal Depression but certainly more severe.

The symptoms share a close resemblance to Puerperal Bipolar Disorder (also called as Mania Depressive Disorder) and Acute Polymorphic Psychosis (commonly known as Schizophreniform in the USA). Though its occurrence is 1 in a 1000 deliveries, it is common in UK and US and has found its way towards Asia.

Origin and Causes:

This mental illness comes uninvited without the slightest hint. It is genetically transmitted through mother, sister or a close female relative. The illness is most common in first time mothers. Women, who have been afflicted with this illness during a previous delivery, also stand at a high risk of a relapse during their next childbirth.

The changes in hormone levels or sleeping patterns could be another reason. The chances of having puerperal psychosis would be somewhere around 25% to 50% for women who fall under the mentioned risk groups. An immediate visit to a psychiatrist with spouse would be the right thing to do.

Symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis:

To have mood swings after childbirth is perfectly normal. These usually last for about 10 days after delivery. Extreme mood swings even after that could be a cause of puerperal Psychosis.

There are varieties of symptom of Postpartum (Postnatal or puerperal) Psychosis and differs amongst women, they are:

  • Some women show the typical symptoms as that of Mania Depressive Disorder. This would include sleeplessness, increased sociability and over activity, euphoria, tearfulness, irritability, violence and delusions. In extreme cases, it could even lead to highly disorganized speech.
  • Some may also exhibit severe depression teamed up with delusions and hallucinations when in a low life state.
  • There are other atypical symptoms that come under the category of Acute Polymorphic Psychosis. Such women could be perplexed with a confused state of mind most of the time. They could be extremely fearful, paranoid and suspicious. Some may even think they are in a dream world!

Treatment for Postpartum Psychosis:

Women with puerperal psychosis should immediately seek psychiatric attention with their partners and families. Severe symptoms could require anti-psychotic drugs and mood stabilizers for which hospitalization is a must.

Theoretically, the mother and child could be together during hospitalization where the mother would be supported in taking care of the baby as well as receive her treatment. But in the case of extreme medication, breast feeding is not recommended for the safety and good health of the baby.

The families and spouses of such women play an important role in helping them get better. Women with this illness would not only need practical help to take care of their babies but also to bond with them as some mothers may have problem in doing so after an episode of Postpartum Psychosis. With constant communication with psychiatric doctors and nurses these problems would not last long.

Prevention is better than Cure:

The good news is that Postpartum Psychosis could be prevented even before its occurrence. A prenatal psychiatrist or a general psychiatrist would guide women about the chances of affliction and its symptoms while planning their pregnancies. A meeting is set up with the woman, her spouse and their families besides the mental health professional(s) to make sure that everyone knows well about the risk of the illness, at around 32 weeks of her pregnancy.

Specialized maternity care would be given to such women during labour by nurses, psychiatrist and mental health nurses. The patient would be under constant vigilance during hospitalization as well as after discharge. It is recommended for the patient and family to keep the emergency contact numbers handy. At any point of time if the mother gets unwell, please don’t wait as the symptoms could worsen rapidly.

Postpartum Psychosis is not anybody’s fault. On the contrary many couples think it is an outcome of relationship problems, stress or the birth of an unwanted baby. With an early and correct treatment and immense care and support from family and friends, this mental illness could be resolved within weeks. After all, a stitch in time saves nine!

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