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Understanding Postpartum Psychosis

5 min read

It is true that no one can resist the urge to wonder the changes their body has gone through the previous 9 months of pregnancy. All those worries will be compensated the moment when you hold your little wonder close to your heart. Grappling with the new role – mother, its responsibilities, and figuring out how to look after your child, who solely depends on you, can be overwhelming, but is still manageable for most of us.
Postpartum psychosis
But the period that follows immediately after the delivery, the postpartum period, during when the mother’s body starts to rebuild the strength and heals the injuries happens during the child birth (either vaginal or cesarean) and progress towards the fitness will not manageable for some group of mothers.

Lets Know More About Postpartum Period

There will be lots of issues that can bother a woman during the postpartum period. This includes both physical and psychiatric.
Studies have shown, during the postpartum period almost 85% of the mothers come across some degree of mood disturbances. Most of these mood disturbances are not severe and last only a short time. Nevertheless, around 15% of the mothers develops a significant symptom of anxiety or psychiatric issues which last for a long time.
The psychiatric ailment during the postpartum period can be divided into three groups:

  1. Postpartum blues (experienced by about 50% to 85% of the mothers)
  2. Postpartum depression (experienced by 10% to 20%of the mothers)
  3. Postpartum psychosis

Of the three groups, the most severe form of psychiatric complaint develops during the postpartum period is Postpartum psychosis.

What Is Postpartum Psychosis?

Postpartum psychosis is a group of severe mental illness that affects a new mom during her postpartum period. Though it is a very severe condition, it rarely happens, like, one or two among thousand new mothers. The beginning of the symptoms happens generally within three days after giving birth to the baby. More symptoms surface with in first two weeks of postpartum. It can be an alarming episode for ladies, their accomplices, and loved ones.

Who Is More Likely To Get Postpartum Psychosis?

Postpartum psychosis can happen to any woman. Sometimes, it happens ‘all of a sudden’ to a woman who has not been psychiatrically ill before. But, there are some risk factors which increases the chance to have a postpartum psychosis. Such as:

  • The women who are currently undergoing postpartum depression
  • Women who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, or schizophrenia
  • Women experienced postpartum psychosis during the previous delivery
  • Women with a family history (mother or sister) of postpartum psychosis

What Causes Postpartum Psychosis?

There are several factors that can lead to postpartum psychosis.

  1. Genetic factors: If the mother and sister of the woman have had postpartum psychosis, then the new mom also has increased chances of having postpartum psychosis
  2. Changes in hormone levels: The fast fluctuations of the pregnancy hormones and other hormones are considered as a cause of postpartum psychosis
  3. Disrupted sleeping pattern: The interrupted sleeping which is usual after delivery is also considered as a reason behind postpartum psychosis

What Are The Symptoms Of Postpartum Psychosis?

The symptoms of postpartum psychosis generally is a mixture of symptoms of depression and symptoms of mania. These symptoms can change rapidly from hour to hour and from day to day. It also varies from one woman to another. Generally, a woman suffering from postpartum psychosis will be unaware of it. It is her close family members who notice the symptoms.
The earlier (onset) symptoms includes:

  • Irritability(bad temper)
  • Insomnia (inability to sleep)
  • Restlessness (unable to stay calm)

Postnatal depression
Once the postpartum psychosis progresses (within first two weeks of the postpartum period) the symptoms includes:

  • Delusions: A false idea or belief or thought which are very odd (and more often negative) caused by mental illness. For example, a woman with delusion may strongly believe that the baby is not her or the other members of the house are intending to harm her, so on.This often leads to losing touch with actuality
  • Hallucination: Seeing, smelling, hearing or feeling something that does not exist (except in the patient’s mind). Hallucination can cause an individual to become detached and unapproachable. Paranoia, suspicion and fearfulness are the often outcome of this condition
  • Out of the character behavior: The woman may either become more talkative, active and sociable than usual or become very withdrawn and refuse to communicate with people
  • Racing thoughts: It is a procession of unmanageable thoughts that switch rapidly between ideas and often conflicts
  • Sleeping issues: Often refuse to sleep or may not be able to sleep. Insomnia is quite a common symptom
  • Hyperactivity: Feeling highly energized and more often shows an inability to control the behavior and act like a maniac. In spite of just going through a delivery, the woman may seem overly energetic
  • Difficult in bonding with the baby: Unable to create a bond with the baby and will try to hurt herself or the baby whenever possible
  • Severe confusion: The state of being puzzled, disoriented and uncertain about the happenings. And feel difficulty in concentration

How Is Postpartum Psychosis Treated?

Postpartum psychosis is considered as a psychiatric emergency. So it is important to look out help as soon as possible. Also, postpartum psychosis reacts well to the treatment. If left untreated, the condition will become too dangerous. There is a serious risk of life to both the mother and the new-born baby.

  • The mother will be admitted to the hospital (a specialist psychiatric unit called a mother and baby unit) along with the baby. This will allow the mother to continue the bonding or start a bonding with her baby and gradually helps in developing confidence as a mother
  • Antidepressants, antipsychotic, and mood stabilizing drugs are usually given. The medicines will be administrated under the supervision of the doctor who specializes in psychiatry
  • Type of medication is decided after weighing the severity against the side effects of medicines on breastfeeding
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is another suggested treatment. In this psychiatric treatment, seizures are electrically induced to deliver relief from psychiatric ailment by overturning the symptoms. The merit is that this therapy will not affect breastfeeding
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a talking therapy is also offered to treat postpartum psychosis. This will help the patient to manage the issues like anxiety and depression associated with postpartum psychosis

Most of the mothers, if treated well, are found to recover within weeks. Of course, the pace of the recovering depends on the severity. But postpartum psychosis is entirely curable even if it takes more time in severe cases.

Does Postpartum Psychosis Repeat In A Woman’s Successive Deliveries?

Yes. The chances are more for a woman to have postpartum psychosis if she had it during her previous delivery.

Can Postpartum Psychosis Be Prevented?

Postpartum psychosis can’t be prevented completely in all cases. Yet, there are several measures that can be taken to reduce the severity of postpartum psychosis if you know that you fall under the increased risk group.

  • Let your doctor know your chances of getting postpartum psychosis. The medical team will help you to start feeling ‘bonded’ with your child way before even he or she is born
  • There are certain medicines if taken in late pregnancy will help in reducing the intensity or even the chances of postpartum psychosis. Your doctor may able to help you with such medicines after weighing the side effects
  • Watching out closely for the signs of the postpartum psychosis or other symptoms (by the partner or another member of the family who is closely in touch with the new mother), which will help to start the treatment and hence the cure fast

The partner also needs some care as the postpartum psychosis of the mother can be stressful and upsetting for the father too. So ask him to find some ways to relax himself and cope up with the situation and ensure him that his wife and child are going to be fine soon

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