Finding Help for Postpartum Psychosis

The hormonal changes experienced during pregnancy can be distressing to say the least. For some women, the transition from pregnancy to delivery can bring on a condition known as postpartum psychosis. This condition can cause considerable distress for the mother and pose a danger for both mother and baby.

For these reasons, postpartum psychosis conditions warrant immediate treatment. The severity of the condition most often dictates the type of treatment a woman needs. While postpartum psychosis conditions do come and go, finding help in a timely manner can greatly reduce the duration and degree of distress a woman experiences.

Postpartum Psychosis

One to two out of every 1,000 childbearing women will develop postpartum psychosis, according to the U. S. National Library of Medicine. Symptoms of the disorder typically develop anywhere from 2 days to four weeks after giving birth.

Among women experiencing postpartum psychosis:

  • 12 percent of women exhibit symptoms of schizophrenia
  • 72 to 88 percent of women exhibit symptoms of bipolar disorder and/or schizoaffective disorder

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis typically take the form of:

  • Strange, disorganized behavior displays
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions of grandeur
  • Confusion
  • Bizarre perceptions and ideations
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Diminished functional capacity

The severity of these symptoms places both mother and baby at considerable risk of harm and so requires immediate treatment.

Inpatient Treatment

psychosis in new mothers

Getting help for postpartum issues will ensure that you and your baby can have a healthy and happy relationship.

According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, postpartum depression is considered a psychiatric emergency that requires prompt evaluation and treatment. This condition may also warrant immediate hospitalization depending on the severity of the symptoms.

Treatment protocols should also be based on the types of symptoms a woman experiences. As metabolic imbalances can cause similar symptoms to develop, a physical examination should first rule this out before administering treatment for postpartum psychosis.

A physical examination should include the following procedures:

  • Thyroid test
  • Complete blood chemistry profile
  • Antibody tests
  • Tests to check for vitamin B12, folate and calcium deficiencies

Medication Therapies

Standard treatment approaches for postpartum psychosis use medication therapies as a means for stabilizing a woman’s condition. Medications most commonly used include:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Anti-psychotics

For some women, one medication may be enough to stabilize their symptoms, while others may require a combination of medication therapies. As bipolar symptoms appear most often in postpartum psychosis, women with a history of bipolar disorder may require lithium medication therapies combined with one or more of the above medication types.

As medications will inevitably enter the mother’s bloodstream, a woman should not be breastfeeding for the duration of the treatment period.

Other Considerations

While hormone imbalances can greatly contribute to the development of postpartum psychosis, other factors, such as high stress levels and sleep deprivation can also bring about its onset. For some women, standard treatments may do little to stabilize a woman’s symptoms in which case other alternative treatment approaches, such as ECT may be considered.

Once a woman is discharged from the hospital, ongoing follow-up is strongly recommended. Treatment programs should also take steps to help the family understand postpartum psychosis so they can remain alert to any changes in a woman’s condition. Lastly, mothers should remain under supervision when with the baby at all times until the treating physician says otherwise.


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