Updated: Mar 16
Puerperal psychosis is also known as postpartum psychosis. Puerperal psychosis is a severe mental illness affecting women shortly after giving birth. Puerperal psychosis only affects around one in five hundred mothers making it a rare mental illness. (NHS/mental health). This blog will look at what exactly Puerperal psychosis is as well as the causes and effects it has. Also, we will be covering different kinds of treatments and factors that make you more prone to Puerperal psychosis. Additionally, we briefly cover the different types of psychosis.
What is Puerperal psychosis?
Puerperal psychosis is also known as postpartum psychosis, a rare illness. Puerperal psychosis is a serious mental illness and can be an overwhelming and frightening experience. It is critical to seek help if you experience puerperal psychosis.
People who experience puerperal psychosis often feel they are not in touch with reality. Losing touch with reality may include things such as; hearing voices that are not there, seeing things that are not there, or being delusional. Experiencing these can make someone feel very confused and anxious all the time.
Delusions that one may experience can be as bad as believing someone is trying to kill you, people who encounter this may eventually feel paranoid which may even lead to them suffering from paranoia.
Cause and effects of Puerperal psychosis
There is no cause in particular for puerperal psychosis. However, research shows what may make one more prone to the illness. These are things like:
Already being diagnosed with a psychotic disorder - Bipolar, schizophrenia, BPD (Borderline personality disorder), Delusional disorder, and many more.
Have a family history of mental illnesses, particularly puerperal psychosis - even if you do not have a history of mental illness.
Experiencing, puerperal psychosis in a previous pregnancy.
Symptoms can start weeks after giving birth. However, for them to occur weeks after giving birth is rare. More often than not symptoms begin suddenly, days or even hours after childbirth. Experiencing Puerperal psychosis can be extremely scary. Some of the symptoms and effects it may have are:
Hallucinations - hearing, seeing, smelling, or even feeling things that are not there.
Delusions - thoughts or beliefs that are not there.
A manic mood - talking and thinking too much and too quickly, or even feeling “high”.
A low mood - showing signs of depression, being withdrawal, and teary.
Sometimes a mixture of both - extremely low moods as well as extremely high moods.
Loss of inhibitions.
Feeling suspicious or fearful.
Feeling very confused
Behaving in a way that's out of character.
Everyone's symptoms will differ as not everyone experiences things the same. Also, not everyone who experiences puerperal psychosis will experience all of the above symptoms.
How to treat Puerperal psychosis?
It is critical that once you begin to experience any of these symptoms reach out for professional help. Just like anything, there are many different types of help that we can receive, so it is a case of what works best for you. Looking at the types of treatments available; Medications, Therapies, and even sometimes an admission into a facility is the best option.
You can be offered either; antipsychotics to help with manic or psychotic symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations. You may also be given mood stabilisers (for example, lithium) – to stabilise your mood and prevent symptoms from recurring. Additionally, to mood stabilisers, you may be offered antidepressants – to help ease symptoms if you have significant symptoms of depression.
Therapy is a broad subject as there are so many different types. One of the main types of therapies is CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) - this will be expanded on further in a later blog. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be offered as a treatment to treat Puerperal Psychosis. However, this may not work for everyone. Therefore, another therapy that can be offered is ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy) is sometimes recommended if all other treatment options have failed, or when the situation is thought to be life-threatening.
As puerperal psychosis can be extremely dangerous and concerning, there may be cases where it becomes life-threatening if someone is so out of touch with reality. There may be cases where admission to a mental health facility would be more adequate to an individual if they are displaying signs of being a threat to themselves or others. They will be able to receive 24-hour care to help recover.
Most people with postpartum psychosis make a full recovery as long as they receive the right treatment.
Different aspects of psychosis
Psychosis is split into three separate parts. The different aspects are hallucinations, delusions, disorganised thinking, and speech.
Seeing things that other people don't (for example people's faces, animals, or religious figures)
Seeing objects that seem to be distorted or move in ways that they usually wouldn't
Experiencing tastes, smells, and sensations that have no apparent cause (for example feeling insects crawling on your skin)
Hearing voices that other people don't (these could be positive and helpful or hostile and nasty)
Delusions - Lots of people have beliefs that many other people don't share. However, delusions become something that feels believable. This is where a person believes what is in their head so much that it feels as if it is a reality. Therefore, encouraging them to act irrationally and out of character which can sometimes lead to dangerous situations.
Disorganised thinking and speech Hallucinations and delusions can make your thoughts and emotions feel confused and disorganised. Leading to hearing things or feeling as if there may be someone else in your head. Meaning you may have racing thoughts or even a flight of ideas, being where your thoughts move from idea to idea very quickly. Often it can also be where you may speak very quickly and stumble over your words, move from topic to topic very quickly as you have thought of other things to discuss and a difficulty keeping your attention span to one thing.
Puerperal psychosis risk factors Just like anything, some factors can lead to us being more prone to Puerperal psychosis. Puerperal psychosis can occur in anyone after having a baby, even if they do not have a history of mental illness. However, it is more likely to present in people whole:
Higher maternal age
Higher infant birth weight
First pregnancy The exact cause of puerperal psychosis is not known, these are just factors that believe to make someone more prone. Many other aspects of health can influence the causes of postpartum psychosis, including genetics, culture, and environmental and biological factors. Sleep deprivation may also play a role.
Unfortunately, many women do not speak up about these issues for fear that they could lose their babies. Fear that their babies will get taken off of them. However, this is the last thing that anyone would want to. Medics and any outside care that may get involved will always focus on how you can receive the correct treatment. Looking at how they can help ease the stress and symptoms to help you become the best parent you possibly can be.
If you would like to further your understanding and support those with mental health issues, we provide Mental Health First Aid courses and menopause in work placement. For more information