As if the miracle of childbirth wasn’t already miraculously painful, new mothers have to face the risk of several medical conditions and mental disorders as a result of giving birth. Postpartum psychosis (PPP) is a rare but serious mental health condition that affects women shortly after giving birth. It is a psychiatric emergency that requires immediate medical attention. A severe form of postpartum depression, it is characterized by symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, confusion, and manic behavior. It typically occurs within the first two weeks after giving birth but can happen anytime within the first year.
On a related note, some mothers usually experience the ‘baby blues’ after giving birth. This is a natural phenomenon that doesn’t last long. However, postpartum psychosis (also known as postnatal psychosis) is a severe mental illness and requires urgent, effective treatment. As per the National Institutes of Health, it affects 1-2 births out of 1000. However, it is the usually quick onset of psychotic symptoms that makes this rare condition a psychiatric emergency. There are also several considerations involved regarding the safety of the mother and the child, which is why immediate hospitalization is recommended in such cases.
As rare as postpartum psychosis is, it can also be equally dangerous. People with this condition may be at an increased risk of suffering from mental health problems and might be more likely to inflict abuse on their children. If you have PPP, you may experience severe depression and rapid mood changes ranging from excitement or elation to confusion or disorientation. This is, arguably, the most extreme disorder a mother can face after giving birth. It is so crippling and deeply disturbing that it negatively alters a new mom’s ability to function at the peak of their capabilities.
It is not uncommon to confuse this with baby blues and postnatal depression. ‘Baby blues’ affects most new mothers. It starts around three or four days after birth and is characterized by recurring mood swings. You may feel anxious, sad, and overwhelmed and may start overreacting to things. Nonetheless, baby blues don’t require treatment. Self-care and bonding with friends and family can help you adjust and adapt to the new role. Another condition, called postnatal depression, happens post-childbirth. The symptoms, which include low mood, restless sleep, lack of energy, decreased appetite, and negative thoughts, are similar to depression and can last longer than two weeks. Both these conditions are very different from postpartum psychosis.
Symptoms and Causes
For the serious mental illness that it is, PPP requires immediate medical attention, as it can be life-threatening. The symptoms are listed below.
- Hallucinations and delusions: Hallucinations are a common symptom of PPP, where a person experiences things that are not real, such as seeing, hearing, smelling, or feeling things that aren’t there. Delusions are also common, wherein you can have fixed beliefs that are not based on reality. You may believe that you are being watched and followed or that your baby is possessed by the devil.
- Mood changes: A person with postpartum psychosis may experience extreme mood changes. You may feel elated or low, often without apparent reason. You may also feel irritable, anxious, or agitated.
- Confusion and disorientation: This condition can cause a person to feel confused and disoriented. You may have trouble remembering things or feel like you are losing touch with reality. You may also struggle to concentrate, make decisions, or understand what is happening around you.
- Difficulty sleeping: Difficulty sleeping is also a common symptom. You may have trouble falling asleep or wake up frequently at night. You might also feel like you don’t need to sleep or may not feel tired at all.
- Loss of appetite: PPP can cause a loss of appetite or lead to difficulty eating. You may also have trouble remembering to eat or may not take an interest in food.
- Thoughts of harming themselves or their baby: One of the most severe symptoms of this condition is thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. This can be due to hallucinations or delusions that make you believe that your baby is in danger or that you are a danger to themselves or others. It is essential that anyone experiencing these thoughts seeks medical attention immediately.
- Rapid mood swings: If you are experiencing this condition, you may experience rapid mood swings, where your emotions fluctuate rapidly and unpredictably. You may also have trouble controlling your emotions, leading to outbursts of anger or tears.
- Anxiety and panic attacks: PPP can cause you to feel anxious or experience panic attacks. You may feel like you are in danger or that something terrible is going to happen.
- Mania: Sometimes, you may experience mania, wherein you feel extremely elated, energetic, and full of ideas. You may also feel like you don’t need to sleep or eat and may have racing thoughts or talk very quickly.
- Feelings of guilt or shame: A person with postpartum psychosis may experience feelings of guilt or shame. You may feel like you are not a good mother or have done something wrong. You may also feel like you are letting your baby down.
Although it is hard to pinpoint an exact cause, several factors play a part in the development of this condition. Some of them are listed below:
- Hormonal changes: Pregnancy and childbirth cause significant hormonal changes in your body. These hormonal changes, including fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone, can affect the brain’s chemistry and trigger this condition. If you have a personal or family history of mood disorders or have experienced hormonal changes during previous pregnancies, you may be at a higher risk of developing PPP.
- Genetic factors: Genetic factors can play a role in the development of postpartum psychosis. If you have a family history of mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder, then you might have a higher risk of developing PPP.
- Stressful life events: Stressful life events, such as difficult childbirth, financial difficulties, or relationship problems, can trigger PPP. If you have experienced traumatic events, such as sexual or physical abuse, it can expose you to developing this condition.
As stated above, the specific causes of postpartum psychosis are unknown. Usually, it occurs irrationally and for unknown reasons. Because of this, there is no way to completely avoid it. But, certain risk factors can be identified at an early stage. If you have a history of mental illness, especially bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, or have a family history of these conditions, you are at an increased risk. Additionally, if you have had postpartum psychosis after a previous pregnancy, then you are at a higher risk of experiencing it again. Experiencing stressful life events, such as a recent bereavement or relationship breakdown, can also increase the risk of developing this condition.
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How is it Diagnosed?
Diagnosing postpartum psychosis can be challenging as many of the symptoms can be mistaken for the normal stresses and strains of motherhood. However, there are certain diagnostic criteria that doctors use to identify it. These criteria are based on a combination of your symptoms, medical history, and family history. The first step in diagnosis is to take your detailed medical history. This will involve asking about your mental health history, any previous episodes of postnatal psychosis or other mental health conditions, as well as any family history of mental illness. It is important to note that postpartum psychosis is not caused by personal weakness or bad parenting.
The next step is to assess your current symptoms. You may be referred to a psychiatrist or a team of mental health professionals for a comprehensive assessment. The assessment will involve a detailed interview to explore your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. The psychiatrist or mental health team will also use standardized diagnostic tools to assess the symptoms. It is important to note that not everyone with postpartum psychosis will experience all of these symptoms. You may only experience one or two symptoms, while others may experience all of them. The severity of symptoms can also vary between women. Once a diagnosis has been made, it is important to receive appropriate treatment as soon as possible.
Postpartum Psychosis vs Postpartum Depression
Postpartum Depression (PPD) is a common mental health condition that affects up to 15% of mothers after childbirth. It is characterized by feelings of sadness, anxiety, and fatigue, as well as difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite. Symptoms of PPD can develop gradually over several weeks or even months after childbirth and can range in severity from mild to severe. Postpartum Psychosis (PPP), on the other hand, is very rare and is characterized by a rapid onset of symptoms, usually within the first two weeks after childbirth. While PPD can often be treated with therapy, support groups, and medication, PPP requires immediate medical attention and may require hospitalization. PPP is considered a medical emergency and should be treated as such.
PPP is a severe mental health condition that requires prompt treatment to minimize the risk of harm to the mother and baby. The treatment options typically involve a combination of medication and psychological therapies. Antipsychotic medication can help to reduce symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking. The medication may also help to stabilize your mood and improve your overall mental health. You may also seek mental health care from a professional. These professionals can provide psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, and family therapy, which can also be helpful.
Support groups that provide a safe and supportive environment where you can share your feelings and experiences and receive support and advice from others who understand your state can be beneficial. It is important to note that treatment for postnatal psychosis is highly individualized, and what works for one mother may not work for another. Treatment should be tailored to your specific symptoms and needs and provided by a team of healthcare professionals specializing in treating PPP. With appropriate treatment, you can make a full recovery and go on to lead happy, healthy lives with your family.
Seek Help With a Trusted Professional On DocVita Today
If you are suffering from postpartum psychosis, then it is important for you to know that recovery is possible with appropriate care, treatment, and support. You should seek help as soon as possible and work closely with your healthcare providers to develop a treatment plan tailored to your needs.
At DocVita, we connect you with a wide network of therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Our trained professionals work according to your needs and wants while ensuring that all your questions are answered.
So what are you waiting for? Book a call with one of our specialists and embark upon your healing journey today.