What is Postpartum Psychosis? Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

If you're in the postpartum period and you feel that you're displaying behavior such as irritability, insomnia or hallucinations, this article may be fore you.
What is Postpartum Psychosis? Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Last update: 22 May, 2018

Postpartum psychosis or puerperal psychosis is a mental pathology that affects a very small percentage of women after childbirth.
Only about 0.15 percent of new mothers experience this phenomenon, but the symptoms are much more serious than those of postpartum depression.

There are several factors that contribute to this condition. It has a great deal to do with the stress and hormonal changes related to pregnancy and childbirth.

The changes that a woman’s body undergoes after having her baby is also an influencing factor. And finally, the responsibilities of caring for a newborn also play a role in the appearance of postpartum psychosis.

This psychological condition is very delicate in that it can take up to several months to dissipate. Furthermore, it can lead to bipolar disorder

Medical specialists agree that postpartum psychosis shouldn’t be taken lightly. Rather, this pathology requires pharmaceutical treatment, therapy and psychiatric hospitalization.

Causes of postpartum psychosis

As we indicated above, the main cause of psychosis during the puerperal period is stress. The stress level reaches a point that the mother cannot control .

What is Postpartum Psychosis? Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

This claim comes from a statistic analysis of the population that has suffered from this illness.

Based on those same studies, the following groups of women are more likely to develop postpartum psychosis :

  • Women who suffer from squizophrenia.
  • Women who already have bipolar disorder.
  • Mothers with a history of drug addiction.
  • Women who didn’t wish to be pregnant.
  • Victims of sexual abuse.
  • People with a family history of mental illness.
  • Individuals with serious family problems, be it with their partner or another person in the home.
  • Drug addicts that present symptoms of abstinence.
  • In some cases, first-time mothers that face the new challenge of motherhood.

Besides stress, there are other non-psychiatric conditions that can also contribute to the appearance of postpartum psychosis :

  • Postpartum thyroiditis.
  • Brain tumors.
  • Extreme hormonal disorder.
  • Infections during the puerperal period.
  • Intoxication from medications, chemicals or drugs.

Now that we’ve discussed the causes of postpartum psychosis, we’ll go on to talk about the symptoms.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis

Mothers who develop postpartum psychosis experience symptoms that are akin to those of bipolar disorder. 

Thus, the deduction is that many women already suffered from bipolar disorder or have a family history of mental illness.

That being said, not all patients present the same symptoms, nor the same severity of these symptoms.

Below you’ll find a list of the most common manifestations :

  • Insomnia.
  • Depression.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Disorientation.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Manic episodes.
  • Excessive irritability.
  • Drastic mood swings.
  • Aggressive behavior (towards self or towards the baby).
  • Difficulty recognizing those around her.

As for this last symptom, we want to make a distinction between postpartum psychosis and postpartum depression.

While there are very rare exceptions in which depression may turn into postpartum psychosis, these mental pathologies aren’t connected and are clearly distinguishable.

Difference between puerperal depression and postpartum depression

Puerperal or postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis do have some symptoms in common. However, they are two clearly different illnesses.

First, postpartum depression isn’t a radical mental illness, as is psychosis. In fact, through treatment with antidepressants, the symptoms can be eliminated.

However, postpartum psychosis requires hospitalization. In the past, electric shock therapies were even utilized, as the hallucinations do not dissipate with simple medication.

A mother with postpartum depression won’t experience hallucinations or identity loss. Nor will she display a disconnect with reality or fail to recognize those around her.

Another major distinction is that the symptoms of puerperal depression appear gradually, while those of postpartum depression appear quite suddenly.

In fact, they can appear even up to 4 weeks after the baby’s birth.

What is Postpartum Psychosis? Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Treatment of postpartum psychosis?

Because postpartum psychosis is an extreme mental pathology, its treatment involves immediate hospitalization. 

Many of the symptoms related to this illness don’t go away on their own. At the same time, they only fade slightly if not treated with the correct medication and supervised in case of a flare-up.

Therefore, treatment commonly involves admittance to an institution where an interdisciplinary team of professionals can care for the patient. This team will include a medical doctor, a psychiatrist and psychologist.

Treatment also requires the administration of a specific mixture of medications. 

The medical professionals will determine what medications are necessary according to the patient’s needs, taking into account both mental conditions and possible organic illnesses.

In very extreme cases, sleep therapy is utilized. This type of treatment replaces electric shock treatment, which is no longer considered a viable treatment option.

Without a doubt, this serious and extremely rare condition involves intense treatment of the mother. If you notice these symptoms in yourself or someone you know, seek the assistance of a medical professional immediately.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.