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Explains postnatal depression and other perinatal mental health issues, including possible causes, sources of treatment and support, and advice for friends and family.
Postpartum psychosis (PP) is a serious, but rare, diagnosis occurring in around one in 1,000 births. You're likely to experience a mix of:
Symptoms usually start quite suddenly within a few weeks after giving birth. PP is sometimes called puerperal psychosis.
Postpartum psychosis can be an overwhelming and frightening experience for you and your loved ones, and it's important to seek help as soon as possible. With the right support, most women fully recover.
This page covers:
Watch Kathryn talk about her experience of postpartum psychosis.
Delusions and hallucinations are aspects of psychosis.
A delusion is a significantly unusual belief that other people don't share. For example, you might believe that you are related to someone famous, although you don't share any relatives, or you may believe you are able to control the weather. Some delusions can be very frightening – for example, if you believe that someone is trying to control you or kill you. These sorts of delusions are often called paranoid thinking or paranoia. See our pages on paranoia for more information.
Hallucinations are when you see or hear things, or experience tastes, smells and sensations, that people around you don't. For example, you might see objects move in ways they normally wouldn't, or hear voices that other people don't. See our pages on hearing voices for more information.
For more general information, see our pages on psychosis.
There is no clear evidence on what causes postpartum psychosis, but there are some risk factors. You are more likely to develop postpartum psychosis if:
However, you can also develop postpartum psychosis if you have no history of mental health problems at all.
It is slightly more common in first rather than later pregnancies.
If you are at a higher risk of developing postpartum psychosis, it's important to discuss your mental health with your midwife or doctor, and think about how you can plan ahead. Action Postpartum Psychosis has a guide on planning pregnancy for women at high risk of developing postpartum psychosis.
You are most likely to be offered an antipsychotic drug to manage your mood and psychotic symptoms. See our pages on antipsychotics and our antipsychotics A-Z for more information about these drugs. You may also be offered an antidepressant.
If your symptoms are very severe, and don't respond to other treatments, your doctor may offer you electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). See our pages on ECT for more information and your rights around treatment.
Your doctor may decide that treating you in hospital is the best way to get you the help you need. If it's possible, you should be admitted to a mother and baby unit (MBU), where you can stay with your baby while getting treatment. See our page on support and services for more information.
If you are experiencing postpartum psychosis, the most important thing to do is get help. Speak to your doctor if you feel able to, or talk to someone you trust about what's going on and ask for their support in getting help.
Once you're receiving professional help, there are things you can do to help look after yourself while you recover:
If you've experienced postpartum psychosis, it's understandable to feel anxious about becoming pregnant again. Unfortunately, experiencing PP does put you at higher risk of developing it again with future pregnancies.
If you want to have another baby, or find out that you're pregnant, it's important to talk to your health care professional and make a plan in case you do become unwell again. See Action Postpartum Psychosis's website for more information about planning your pregnancy if you are at high risk of developing PP.
This information was published in July 2016. We will revise it in 2019.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.