Treating Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis (also known as postnatal psychosis) is the most severe form of postpartum depression and it affects one in approximately 1000 mothers. Symptoms of postpartum psychosis include severe insomnia and hallucinations, as well as suicidal or even homicidal thoughts. A woman suffering from postpartum psychosis may be a risk to herself and her baby and will need intense treatment and significant support to help her recover.


The treatment offered for postpartum psychosis is similar to the treatment given for postpartum depression, except that it may have to be administered in a highly structured and secure environment such as a hospital or mental health facility. Often, a specialist team of psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses and occupational therapists will draw up a combined program of intensive talk therapies and medication to help the mother control her symptoms and eventually get better. As in cases of postpartum depression, the patient may be given anti-depressants. Stronger medications such as anti-psychotic drugs and perhaps even tranquillizers (on a short-term basis) may also be prescribed.

Temporary Separation Of Mother And Baby

In cases in which a mother is having suicidal thoughts and therefore poses a risk to herself, she will be hospitalized until the intensity of her psychosis has subsided. In addition to that, if doctors think that she might harm her baby, they will recommend that she is separated from her child until it is safe for her to spend time with the baby again. This may mean that the baby will be placed with close family or friends while the mother recovers in hospital, or, if the facilities are available, both she and the baby could go to a specialist mother-and-baby mental health clinic. Such clinics provide constant supervision and a separate and safe sleeping area for the baby until the mother is well enough to have her child stay in her room. When it is necessary to separate a mother from her baby, doctors always aim to do so in the most humane way possible; their ultimate goal is always to bring mother and baby back together again as soon as possible - in a healthy and safe environment.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a radical but effective treatment for most cases of severe depression. It will only be used if all other forms of treatment have failed to deliver the desired result. Unfortunately, its effectiveness is only temporary in some cases. The patient is given a general anesthetic and medication to relax her muscles. Then pulses of electric current are passed through her brain via electrodes positioned on her head. This causes a seizure in her body. It is thought that the electricity changes the chemical composition of the brain and provides relief from the symptoms of psychosis. There are some side effects, such as memory loss, associated with ECT and the treatment will be stopped if the patient begins to display any of these.

When To Seek Help

If you have just had a baby and are experiencing continued mood swings, feeling intense anger or sadness or are unable to cope with your daily life, you are probably suffering from postpartum depression and you should seek help from your doctor as soon as possible. Don't allow the symptoms to worsen and develop into something more serious.

If you are experiencing any of the following, you may be suffering from postpartum psychosis and you must call an ambulance and ask another adult to come and sit with you until it arrives:

- Severe insomnia (not getting more than two hours sleep a night).

- Thoughts about killing or hurting yourself.

- Thoughts of killing or hurting your baby or any other children (or adults, for that matter).

- Thoughts that your baby is evil or deliberately trying to hurt you.

Don't Be Ashamed

As time goes on, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are becoming more and more widely recognized and talked about. There is no shame in admitting that you have these symptoms and you need help. Take pride in having the strength do what's best for both you and your baby.

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