Puerperal psychosis also known as postpartum psychosis is mental condition that affects women after childbirth .This condition is quite rare compared to postpartum anxiety or depression as it affects about 1 percent of births. The onset is usually sudden and often occurs within the first 2 weeks after giving birth.
Puerperal psychosis can be a frightening condition especially for first time mothers and those around her. The condition should be considered as psychiatric emergency as it can escalate rapidly and requires early medical interventions. The woman may not realize that she is ill; therefore it is upon the relatives or friends to seek for help on her behalf.
The real cause of postpartum psychosis is still unknown; however anyone who has been previously diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder or bipolar disorder is at an increased risk of developing this condition. In spite of this, more than half of the cases occur out of the blue to women without any family or personal history of mental disorders.
Some health experts claim that the condition is triggered by the hormonal changes experienced during pregnancy and birth; however the factors involved are not yet well understood. Postpartum psychosis is more likely to occur if there is a family history of the condition. Apart from genetic factors, the disorder is also known to occur when a woman is unable to get enough sleep following childbirth.
Science has established that postpartum psychosis is likely to occur:
- If there is a family member who has experienced the condition
- When it is a first baby
- If they have a history of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder
- If a woman has previously been diagnosed with postpartum psychosis
Symptoms of postpartum psychosis usually appear within two weeks after childbirth, however in some cases it may develop several weeks after delivery. The first signs often include insomnia, feeling high and religious, talking rapidly as well as confusion.
- Hearing or seeing things that are not there (hallucinations)
- Decreased need for sleep
- Mania: this includes feeling excited, active, energetic and racing thoughts
- Mood swings
Delusion: these are false perceptions that are strongly held. A woman experiencing this condition may falsely belief the child is evil or it is sent from God.
Out of the women who develop this condition, there is a 5 percent suicide or infanticide rate linked with the disorder. This happens because the mother experiencing psychosis is usually out of touch with reality. In her psychotic state, the strange beliefs make sense to her as they seem very meaningful and religious. Basically many survivors of puerperal psychosis do not harm themselves or other people; however there is always a risk of danger since this condition includes delusional thinking and illogical judgment.
Puerperal psychosis is highly treatable, so it is important for women experiencing the above symptoms to seek treatment. If left untreated the delusions and hallucinations can lead you to engage in activities that may have dire consequences such as committing suicide or harming your baby.
Medication using pharmaceutical drugs is important for women suffering from puerperal psychosis. This may include antipsychotics and mood stabilizers prescribed by a psychiatrist. Medication should be used with caution and should not be stopped suddenly.
Breastfeeding mothers may be able to continue using medication but treatment should be confirmed by an appropriate specialist before it can be administered. Medication usually depends on the severity of the disorder and how you are feeding the baby. In some instances you may need to go into a hospital for while to enable healthcare providers supervise your progress.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is one of the treatments that can be used to deal with this condition. This approach is highly effective and enables the mother to continue breastfeeding the child. Other alternative used to treat this disorder include talking therapies such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).
Severe symptoms of postpartum psychosis tend to last 2-12 weeks, healthcare providers prefers to keep the mothers in the hospital throughout that duration. When diagnosed correctly and treated promptly, most mothers recover fully, however the condition is often followed by a period of anxiety, depression and low self-confidence.
Returning home after treatment and resuming normal duties is usually a daunting task.
It is upon the close relatives and friends to support the mother fully in order to ease her back into normal life. Throughout the recovery period most women continue to get support from mental health providers such as community mental health teams or psychiatric nurses. Alternatively such mothers can seek help from a general practitioner and other local support forums.
It may take some time before mothers suffering from postpartum psychosis recover fully and come into terms with their condition. Looking back most women claim that it took 6-8 months to recover fully and even longer to come to terms with the experience. Normally some of these women feel sad for missing out on early motherhood and may take a while for them to reestablish confidence in friendships and relationships. Luckily enough most mothers are able to bounce back and start feeling like their usual selves again.